About Me

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Brisbane, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Brisbane, Australia. Visit my website at www.noelleclark.net

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Journey through Time - Part 3

I have finally written a chapter outline for the story. I think it is still a work in progress as it is just the bare bones at the moment. I think i need to just start writing the narrative because I always seem to get side tracked when I try to write. Perhaps I am not yet sure the exact tack I will take in telling this story.

Well, better get started and at least get some words onto the blank page.

Talking of blank pages: I bought myself a new toy yesterday. It is called a LiveScribe Pulse Smartpen, which, in essence, is a pen that will capture your notebook jottings digitally as well as via audio, and which allows you to then download your notes straight on to your computer. I can see so much value in it for taking notes whilst travelling. You can even create flash files from it, and it will capture diagrams as well. Fun, fun, fun!

Now, back to the writing...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Journey Through Time - Part 2

A major breakthrough.

After some hours, well several hours really, of searching the net I finally managed to find the shipping passenger list with Misses Houston listed! Finding this and actually seeing their names makes them seem so real and alive. Exciting stuff. No one can remember the name of the ship they travelled on, so it was a long process of detective work and I finally tracked it down by searching the Brisbane Courier newspaper for the year 1914 and perused the Shipping information section.

On Saturday 20th June 1914 (coincidentally EXACTLY 96 years ago today), my Grandmother and Aunt left the port of Brisbane on the KPM Line ship Tasman, bound for Batavia (now Jakarta), and from thence on to Hong Kong. I am yet to track down whether or not they stayed on the Tasman from Hong Kong to Shanghai. The newspaper shows that the ship had travelled from Sydney to Brisbane and was steered by Captain Lucardie.

The Tasman was 5023 tons - relatively small when compared with the likes of the Orient Line ships which were 3 or 4 times the size and were luxury liners. My research shows that the Tasman that my ladies sailed on was version number 2 and built in 1913 by Earle's Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd., Hull, England. In 1918 it was confiscated by the British Government, torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U 46 in the Atlantic Ocean. So, it was a brand new steam ship with a buff funnel with a black stripe around the top. I am still searching for a photo of it but have managed to find some interior photos of a very glamourous sister ship, the Nieuw Holland which was about 12,000 tons and luxury in the extreme. I also discovered that any passenger ships leaving ports (particularly in Sydney) were sent off in gala style, with brass and pipe bands and masses of coloured paper streamers linked between ship and shore. Remember, there were no aeroplanes yet, only sea travel.

Armed with this vital piece of information, I am now ready to begin my narrative. My task today is to write a chapter outline which will be my plan for the story. Whilst I want to primarily write about the experiences of my Grandmother and Aunt in China, I am going to also write about my own travels to China in search of my spiritual link with that country which I have become very fond of. Weaving the two journeys through time will be my biggest challenge.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Journey Through Time - Part 1

My journey has begun. After a lifetime of hearing the stories of my grandparent's exciting, happy and tragic years living in China, I am about to embark on the task of telling the story.

My fascination with China has been there all my life. Our house has always been filled with 'things from China'. Many were wedding presents, poignant reminders of the short five year marriage of my Grandmother - Gladys Houston, to my Grandfather - Oliver Clark. The intricately carved ebony potstand still sits in pride of place as you walk through my mother's front door. The hand painted and handmade (unthrown) fine as egg shell porcelain tea set, each piece with its own unique pictures painted by some unknown artist nearly a hundred years ago. The silver salt and pepper shakers, the cloisonne snuff boxes, the exquisitely painted little porcelain bottles, the stunning hand hammered silver vase, and most beautiful of all - my mother's jade and gold pendant. When I was a child I used to stare for ages at these objects through the glass of my mother's china cabinet conjuring up, with my child's imaginative but unworldly mind, the mystical place called China and what it must have been like. The china cabinet was the place all the 'precious' things were housed. (Was it just a coincidence that the 'stuff from China' was housed in a china cabinet?) On Christmas holidays, I would volunteer to use the Brasso and Silvo to polish these relics until they shone like new.

But the best, and most cherished, possession that my Nana brought back from China was an old, twine covered photo album. There were photos in there of she and her handsome husband Oliver playing tennis with another couple. The other couple was Anne Houston, Nana's older sister, and her husband Jack Gorman. There were many photos of the two happy couples who lived the comfortable life of expatriates in an exotic place. But there was something even more precious than the photos. My Nana had pressed two flowers inside the pages of the photo album. I can still feel their delicate dried petals as I caressed them with my child's fingers. They were, I knew even as a child, my Nana's tangible memory of the place where she had found the love of her life, and then lost him so soon. The place where he still lies, buried beneath the bustling city of Shanghai. Now that the innocence of my childhood years are long gone, my heart aches when I think of my Nana picking those flowers (maybe they were from Oliver's graveside?) and placing them in the album. How sad she must have been.

The story of the lives of the two couples - Gladys and Oliver, and Anne and Jack - is one that is brimming with happiness, and is tragic almost beyond belief. The setting is exotic, exciting and fascinating. The story deserves to be told, not just for the memory of these four special people, but because it is a really good yarn. It is full of courage, pathos, emotion and is set against the backdrop of violent and crime-ridden China in the years when the rest of the world was in the chaos of the First World War. A time when China was being infiltrated and exploited by Japan, Germany, Russia, France and Britain to the extent that civil war and a fight by the Chinese to regain ownership of it's own country made it a dangerous place to be.

There are several good books set in this turbulent time of China's history. One notable one is 'The China Saga' by C.Y. Lee which takes the reader through the various wars, battles and invasions that have plagued China from ancient times until its leap into Communism in 1949. China is widely recognised as the world's oldest continuous civilisation and many relics there pre-date the Pyramids. It is a fascinating country with a rich culture.

The story I am going to write will be about four people whose lives were changed forever in the years from June 1914 until March 1929 whilst living in China.

Visiting China in October 2009 was like a pilgrimage. I could feel my grandparents spirits there with me. I was able to walk the streets of Yichang - the riverside town where they were married. I drove down the road from the town to the wharf at the mighty Yangtze River which had not changed much since the days that Gladys and Oliver would have travelled it to catch their boat back to Shanghai. I gazed at the impressive edifice of the old colonial Customs House on the Bund in Shanghai where my grandfather and Uncle Jack were employed. I stood on the ground where the old British Concession once stood, the place they would have called home.

In this blog, I want to share with readers the process of writing this story, to join with me in the journey I will take through research, speaking to my Mother who is almost 92 and also to my Aunty Mary (94) who were both born in China, and who are the wonderful gifts that Gladys and Oliver, and Anne and Jack, left to us.

I have posted the memoirs of these two wonderful ladies in previous posts.

I hope to share this journey with you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The China Story - the beginning - Part 2


This memoir was written in the mid 1980s by my Aunt - Mary Farley (Gorman). She will be 94 this year, and she - along with my own mother Olive Dillon (Clark) - nearly 92 - are like sisters and see each other regularly. I have posted their stories of China as they have both captured the memories for future generations.

To the memories of Gladys and Oliver (front row), and of Jack and Ann (back row).

Childhood Memoirs Of China
By Mary Gorman

I, Mary Gladys Katherine Gorman, was born on 4th July 1916 to John Joseph (Jack) Gorman and his wife, Anne (nee Houston). My mother died two days later. I believe it was a difficult birth which probably caused a severe haemorrhage. Dad rarely talked about my mother but I remember hearing him tell someone that he had to waken a chemist at 3am to take and oxygen tank to the hospital to help my mother. Of course it would be unheard of these days.

Although my birthplace was Tientsin (now Tianjin), North China, it was a fairly modern city. My mother was 40 years of age which was against her particularly in those days. I know dad never really got over her death. He couldn’t bear to talk about her so I knew nothing of my mother until I returned to Australia 12 years later and spoke to my aunts who all thought she was a wonderful person and it was a pity I wasn’t more like her! Apparently she had a lovely voice – mezzo soprano and sang in the choir of St Patrick’s Church in Mackay and later at St Stephens Cathedral in Brisbane. She also took lead parts in many musicals. My mother had a bright outgoing personality which I did not inherit, unfortunately.

Although I was born in China, my parents were Australians and their parents came to Australia from Ireland. My mother was born in Clermont, Queensland in 1875 and later came with her family to live in Mackay. My father was born in Mackay in 1874 and lived there before leaving for China in his twenties with his best friend William McKenny who eventually became my Godfather. Dad and his friend were saddlers and during a depression at that time used to travel miles to the various properties mending saddles. They must have decided there was an easier way to make a living and when an offer came for them to escort a number of horses to China, they accepted. When they arrived in China in 1901 they applied to the Customs Maritime Service and that is where they remained.

My mother, who came from a family of seven, four boys and three girls, and my father who was one of four in his family – three boys and one girl, became very good friends and eventually very much in love. My father had decided when he had earned enough in the customs, we would send for my Mother. This he did after a couple of years, but her reply was “if you want me, come back for me”. Unfortunately he couldn’t do this as the Customs Service would not grant leave until eight years were completed.

During those years my mother took her youngest sister, Gladys (Aunty Darl) with her to Brisbane and they ran an Employment Agency which was situated in Albert Street, in the old Tivoli Theatre Building, opposite where the City Hall now stands. According to reports, they did very well.

After several years had elapsed, Aunty Darl told me that one day this tall, handsome man called in at the office and asked to speak to Miss Anne Houston (aunty did not recognize dad). She went and got my mother and dad’s words to her were “Well, are you ready this time?” And the answer was “yes”.

Dad returned to China while my mother organised for her departure. She had to sell her business and then make preparations for a long voyage to a distant and foreign land. She took her sister with her and eventually, in 1914, they arrived in Shanghai. They were married almost immediately – after 16 years – dad’s best man (Oliver Clark) was later to marry my mother’s bridesmaid (Aunty Darl).

Before proceeding further I shall just give details of my parents’ families. The Houston family consisted of Charles, Mary, Anne, Randall, Pat, Tom and Gladys (Aunty Darl).



· Charles died in his thirties from diabetes, in those days insulin had not been discovered. He had one son called Randall – just don’t know what happened to him.
· Mary married Harry Cross and they had two children – Patsy and Joe
· Pat married and had four boys – Maurice who died a few years ago, Desmond, Kenny and Jim
· Tom remained single and died in his fifties
· Randall did not marry either. He enlisted in the First World War and returned home a nerve case. I remember him as a kind, quiet man. He went out to one of the stations as a bookkeeper and no one ever heard from him again.

The Gorman family included William, John, Stephen and Mary.
· William married Elizabeth Maher and had two children – Kathleen and Tom (who went on to become the first Queenslander to Captain the Australian Rugby League team, 1929 – 30)
· John – my father
· Stephen was unmarried and was killed in a railway accident
· Mary married William Curran and had four children – Jean, Jack, May and Bill.

After my mother’s tragic death, my wonderful dad had the task of rearing a baby girl with no assistance from relatives who were many miles away. He was fortunate he was able to employ and excellent Amah (a Chinese nanny) who cared for me until I was four years of age. I believe the first few months of my life were a nightmare for dad. I cried day and night and it was discovered I was underfed, then to compensate for this, I was overfed and ended up in hospital! I was also born with a Rye neck which caused me to hold my head on one side. I had to have a couple of operations to rectify the problem. Nowadays an operation is not performed, instead intensive physiotherapy is used successfully.


I can’t remember anything of those four years excepting being in a park in my little car, after the pedals had been greased, to discover my clean white socks had turned black.
While dad was rearing me in Tientsin, my Aunty Darl was living with her husband Oliver Clark in Shanghai. They were married in 1915. Aunty was six months pregnant with Mason when she received news of the death of her sister, Mary Cross, in Australia, and a fortnight later she was told of my mother’s death. Needless to say, Mason nearly didn’t make it but he was obviously made of stern stuff and arrived on 27th December 1916. Twenty months later, Olive was born, followed by Joy another 20 months later. Tragically, six weeks after Joy’s birth, Aunty’s husband – Oliver Clark – died after a bout of pneumonia. This was in May 1920.
Immediately dad received the news of Oliver’s illness, he travelled to Shanghai (me too! As I was his pride and joy, thoroughly spoilt of course). Anyway, I believe dad helped Oliver to make his will before he died and afterwards organised funeral arrangements. He applied for leave to take aunty back to Australia with her three children plus you know who!


While on leave we stayed for a while with Aunty Lizzie in Toowoomba and later dad and I went to Mackay to be with Aunty Mary. I believe I was very demanding at that time, understandably as an only child with no mother and being in a strange country. I didn’t believe in walking and wanted a rickshaw. I spoke in ‘Pidgin English’. Would start with “Whaf for I no can have curly hair” etc etc.


When it was time for dad to return to China, he had ideas of leaving me with Aunty Mary, as he had realised how difficult it was for a man on his own to rear a child. But I put paid to that idea by fretting so much he had to take me, mind you, he was just as upset at leaving me, so off we went together.


Dad’s new posting with Customs was Hankow (now Wuhan) which was situated on the Yangtze River, three days travelling by river steamer from Shanghai. We arrived at our destination early in 1921 and lived in House No. 1 situated in a compound of three sets of five terraced houses surrounded by a high wall with iron gates at the entrance. A Chinese watchman was on duty day and night. I can remember some of my fifth birthday. Dad always had a party for me. The children invited all lived in the compound.


Dad had four Chinese servants – a cook, a house boy who did the house cleaning, a yardman (jack of all trades), and my beloved Amah who looked after me. Our house was a two storied brick building with top and bottom verandahs which were screened. It consisted of two large bedrooms on the top floor, plus two bathrooms and lounge and dining room on the bottom floor. There were separate quarters for the servants.


I started school in that year and of course, being a Catholic, went to the Convent. Being a British Subject I was eligible to attend the British School, however, the Convent was for me. Unfortunately there were no British children Catholics and I was the only one there amongst French, Italian, Russian, Portuguese and Eurasians. Still, the English language was taught and spoken and we were taught well by the Canossian Sisters. Being the only British child at the school, plus having a very fair complexion, I stood out like a sore thumb, however, I had some happy years there.


Our main transport around the town was by rickshaw. The summer months in Hankow were June, July and August and they were very hot indeed. School holidays were held in those months and European husbands sent their wives and children up to the mountains or seaside for the holidays. Not having a mother, dad would send me off with family friends, of course my amah went too.


The first year when I was six we went to a resort called, “Chicken Sand” (that is not the correct spelling, but is how it sounded). The wife was a White Russian married to an American Customs Officer. I think there were two children, a girl my age and a younger boy. She was a very excitable, nervous woman, and wasn’t the kindest to me so my Amah would take my part and she was sacked, and another Amah was sent up. She was quite good, but not as good as my first Amah. Although strangely enough, she was a Catholic. Dad came up as soon as he could and took me home. I remember we had to travel a long way in sedan chairs to the Railway Station.


I made good friends with an English girl about my age called Edna Mottram. Edna’s father worked in the Customs as well. Her mother was quite an attractive youngish lady and Edna had a brother about three years younger called Roland. Edna and Roland attended the British School so we could only play together after school. The Mottram family lived in the compound also.


When I was seven, I made my First Holy Communion. It was quite a preparation. Myself and five others had to board in the Convent for three days retreat before the great day. There were three boys and three girls in our group. I stood out as I was the only white girl, the others were all Eurasians, but being children, we didn’t take any notice of colour. The nuns sure gave us strict training and we all became very holy during that period! I can still remember my first Confession, I returned home in a rickshaw, sitting there with my arms crossed across my chest, a look of bliss on my face – just couldn’t wait to get to heaven and only just seven years of age!


In the summer months before my First Holy Communion, dad had the worrying task of trying to find someone suitable to care for a motherless girl when the women and children went to a holiday resort during the sweltering summer. He was friendly with an English couple and the wife who had two children offered to take me along with my Amah. So off we went again up high in the mountains, we travelled by sedan chairs to a place called Kuling (now Leshan) and stayed in a fairly large hotel. This holiday was more disastrous than the previous one. The wife was a most unkind woman and my Amah as usual took my part and, as usual, she was sacked. My health deteriorated – my tongue and gums were ulcerated and I couldn’t eat.
Dad had ordered special cakes etc for my birthday party and I wasn’t even allowed to sit at the table as guest of honour. Was I mad – at that age I felt it very much indeed.


Eventually some other holiday makers at the hotel sent dad a telegram to come and get me or he wouldn’t have a daughter for very long. Poor dad had to get leave from work to come up and collect me, apparently was quite shocked when he saw me and rushed me to the local doctor. I know it was a few weeks before my mouth cleared up and I was able to enjoy a meal once more. And who was there to welcome me home but my original Amah and she was really upset to see her “little Melly” in such a bad way. I was pleased to see her too as we really loved each other.


Life proceeded happily along the next few months. Dad played a lot of lawn bowls and used to take me out to the Racecourse Club where I’d meet some of the other children and we would play while the adults played their sport. It really was a lovely complex at the Club, as it also contained a Racecourse, plus indoor swimming pool. Dad also had a share in a couple of racehorses and we would often go around to the stables. Besides being a member of the Racecourse Club, he was the Secretary of the Customs Club and organised many functions during the year, not the least, the Children’s Christmas Party with Santa Claus. Dad was a champion Billiards player and he won many trophies in Billiards and Bowls.


As I have mentioned before, Dad was a really wonderful father. A fortnight before Christmas he would ask me to write a letter to Santa and ask for the toys I wanted. We would sit opposite each other at the little table in front of an open fire, he would then get me to fold it up and help me put it up the chimney without the fire burning it. That apparently was the secret of Santa Claus getting the message! I believed that until I was at least ten years old. I might add that everything I asked for was there on Christmas morning. I guess dad was trying to make up for the loss of my mother. Eventually I believed the school kids that there really was no Santa Claus and that it was your parents. So I mentioned it to dad and his answer was “Thank the Lord for that as I was going broke!”.


When the summer months came along once more, dad decided he couldn’t trust anyone to care for me so I was sent to board in a Convent at Tsingtao (now Quingdao), a seaside resort for 12 months. We had to travel on the river boat for three days to Shanghai and then two days by sea to Tsingtao. I was brokenhearted when dad had to return to Hankow and I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him for many months.


The Convent was run by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters. Everything was quite new to me and I had to make all new friends. By this time I was about eight years of age. We used to have a bath once a week and wash our hair. The rest of the week was face and hands. Undies were changed twice a week! Most of the nuns were kind and I was happy enough although very homesick. In the holiday period the nuns had a smaller Convent situated close to the beach, and we went in swimming when the weather permitted. Dad came up to see me during his holidays and I didn’t want him to leave. I made my Confirmation in Tsingtao at the age of eight. After 12 months in Tsingtao dad decided to bring me home to Hankow.


On arrival at Hankow I was made a boarder in the Convent and remained there for about 12 months. By this time Chiang Kai-shek had started stirring up the local Chinese against the Europeans. My friend Edna Mottram transferred to the Convent and became a boarder also. She was given the bed next to me in the dormitory probably because we were the only Britishers among the French, Italian, Russian, Eurasian.


Towards the end of 1926, during the winter months, when the river was shallow and large ships could not travel from Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek decided he wanted to get rid of the foreigners. I remember we were all in bed in the dormitory which consisted of about 14 beds – seven each side, when we heard yelling and banging on the Convent gates. We were all rather frightened but Sister walked in and told us not to be silly and go to sleep at once. I might add the Canossian Sisters had two Convents in the same compound. One for us and the other for themselves and the Chinese girl babies they rescued from the river banks, reared and educated and taught beautiful embroidery so as they could eventually earn their living.


The next day dad called to tell the Sisters and myself that he would be taking me home that evening. Dad looked a very worried man, his face was absolutely colourless and he wore a red armband over his Customs navy blue uniform. The red band was to allow him to get about without being attacked by the increasing crowds, just for how long was the $64 question!


The sisters helped me pack my suitcase and I was ready for Dad’s arrival. Dad took me home in a hired car. He was late in arriving as he had been stopped about four times in the short distance from his office which was the Customs House to the convent. We were again stopped by the soldiers twice before we reached home. It was all rather frightening particularly for a ten year old. Dad was away most of the night helping European women and children to evacuate them to Shanghai as the situation in Hankow was becoming dangerous for Europeans particularly Britishers. Miraculously for us all, the rain poured down all that night causing the Chinese mob to disappear – this gave us a chance of escape to waiting ships.


I slept at home that night and in the morning a very tired looking father looked at me with sad eyes and said I would also have to leave, so he took me to a ship which was anchored in the middle of the river. It was waiting to pick up any latecomers. The Captain told Dad his ship wouldn’t be leaving for a few days so Dad left me in his charge and said he hoped to be able to come with me to Shanghai. We said goodbye and that was the last I saw of Dad for over a week. Apparently, when he got back from the ship, he was told that all European men had to go to a large insurance building for their safety and they were locked in there. You can imagine how he felt as he was worried about me with no mother.


In the meantime, while I was on the ship, more and more women and children were arriving including quite a few people I knew. That evening another ship pulled up alongside ours and the ship’s officer said we were all compelled to transfer over to his ship leaving for Shanghai that night as the situation was dangerous. The Captain of the ship I was on asked if I couldn’t stay behind as he had promised my father he would look after me until Dad’s return. The answer was a definite “no”. So I had to go over to the already overloaded ship.


You can imagine how I was feeling. I hadn’t seen Dad since he left me that morning and I was worried something had happened to him. I had no mother and certainly didn’t know anyone in Shanghai. At ten years of age I was a very lost and lonely little girl. When I crossed over to the ship which had berthed alongside us, I notice it was much smaller than the ship I was leaving and it was absolutely crammed with people all with the same idea of escaping to Shanghai away from the revolutionaries. I had a pleasant surprise, however, when I landed on board as my best friend Edna Mottram, her mother and young brother welcomed me and I shared their cabin. We were lucky to have a cabin as many of the people had to sleep on the deck.


It took us three days to arrive in Shanghai and we were fired upon most of the day by Chiang Kai-shek’s soldiers who were on the riverbanks. Edna’s mother was worried as she didn’t know anyone in Shanghai either.


When we finally arrived at Shanghai I was standing on the deck not knowing what was to become of me when a middle aged lady came up to me and asked if I was Mary Gorman and I said that I was and she said her husband worked in the Customs Office and they were informed of a motherless girl arriving from Hankow and they were prepared to give me a home until such time as my father arrived to make different arrangements. Needless to say, I was very grateful. I remained with them for a few months. The family consisted of husband, wife, a daughter a little younger than I was, and a two year old daughter. They also had an Amah who was very kind to me plus a Chinese cook and a “boy” – he was a young man to do the cleaning etc.


Naturally I was very worried about Dad and what had happened to him. In the meantime, this family (I can’t remember their names) who were English, took in another woman who was a refugee from Nanking which was half way between Hankow and Shanghai. She was a Dutch woman and was anxiously waiting for news of her husband. My Godfather, William McKenny, was also stationed at Nanking.


About a week after my arrival in Shanghai, one evening the door opened downstairs and I was peering over the rails upstairs to see who was coming and I heard the husband say, “I have a surprise for you Mary – guess who I have brought home with me” and there was Dad. I sure ran down those steps and into his arms. I still remember that wonderful feeling even to this day. Dad told me he had been locked up in this big building for a week with all the other European men for safety. He received a message from the Captain of the ship I was on that I had been transferred to Shanghai. Needless to say, he was frantic about what would become of me.


Eventually he was allowed by the British Navy to board one of the ships going up to Shanghai to look for me. When he arrived in Shanghai he went straight to the Customs Office and asked the men there whether anyone knew of a little girl called Mary Gorman and this chap stood up to say that I was staying with his family. Poor Dad, he never really got over that experience as his health deteriorated and two years later he had to retire through ill health. In the meantime, he was able to get a transfer from Hankow to Shanghai and stayed at a hotel for a while until he was able to get into a boarding house which took me in as well.


While I was living with the family, we received news of a ship coming from Nanking with a few survivors. I remember the Dutch woman was so excited and went to meet the ship only to be told her husband was killed by the Chinese while trying to escape. It was a dreadful shock for her. My Godfather, William McKenny, was on the same ship, he had a very harrowing experience escaping. He told us he and a few others were running towards the wharf where a British Navy ship was waiting for them. As the Chinese were getting closer the navy fired overhead to give our chaps a chance and my Godfather had to climb a wall and drop down the other side clutching a rope to ease his fall. He was a very big man and in his fifties at the time and in his hurry he slipped down the rope and had severe burns on his hands. I remember his hands were all bandaged up. Still he was glad to be alive although he lost everything he owned. My Godfather never married and died in Hong Kong in 1929 never having returned to Australia.
We also lost most of our belongings and had to start from scratch again. Dad and I lived in Shanghai for about six months in a boarding house when he was transferred back to Tientsin where we remained for about two years. Dad lived in a hotel and I was boarding in a Convent. Dad was now suffering from a tropical disease called “Sprue” and decided to retire in March 1929 when we left for Brisbane. Am pleased to say after a few months Dad was cured. He died on 30th June 1946 at the age of 72 years in Mackay living with his sister, Mary.
When dad first arrived in China he was sent to Ichang which is about three days further up the river than Hankow. I know he contracted Small Pox and nearly died but thankfully survived.


To me he always looked so handsome in his Customs uniform which was like the navy uniform, with the peaked cap and the white uniform in summer with shoulder epaulettes and a white helmet. He was of medium height, had brown curly hair in his youth and grey eyes. My aunt told me when he was a young man he was called “Handsome Jack”.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The China Story - the beginning - Part 1

Oliver and Olive - taken only weeks before he died in 1920






This memoir was written by my mother, Olive Dillon (nee Clark) in the mid 1980s.

This letter is from Mary Cross (nee Houston) to Oliver, regarding news of his engagement to Gladys
Gladys Evelyn Clark (nee Houston)
3 Sept 1886 – 3 Jan 1968


Six years in the early life of our mother – From 1914 until 1920

Some years before the First World War, Mum and her older sister, Ann Houston, came down from Mack in North Queensland, to live in Brisbane. Ann opened a very successful employment agency, assisted by Mum. It was situated in Albert Street, in the old Tivoli Theatre Building, opposite where the City Hall now stands. Mum was then, in the year 1914, about 27 years old, and Aunty Ann would have been in her late thirties.

One morning in early 1914 a handsome gentleman walked into the office and asked to speak with Miss Ann Houston. Although it had been many years since she had seen him, Mum recognized Jack Gorman, who had been in China for many years working for the Customs. In Mackay, where both families had lived, Jack and Ann had been friends since their teens, and Jack had written from China and asked Ann to come over and marry him. As Ann got older and involved with her work, she had replied that if he wished to marry her, then he would have to come for her. Quite some time had elapsed since then, and life went busily on. So imagine how they both felt when my mother showed Jack into the inner office. Mum said he came into the room, stood for a moment looking at her, and then said, “Well, are you coming”? Mum then came quietly outside.

Ann was very independent, and considered herself long past marriage, but was persuaded by her older sister Mary (Cross) to accept Jack’s offer, and to go China and marry him. Eventually she did accept, with the proviso that Darl, (Mum’s nickname) came with her. That was readily agreed to. Jack returned to China as his time was limited, and the two sisters set about all the preparations and arrangements prior to their departure for China.

They went to Toowoomba to farewell the Gorman family, Aunty Lizzie and Aunty Maher and Kath and Tom, who were then about fourteen and twelve respectively. Their (Kath & Tom’s) father, Will Gorman, was Jack’s older brother who had died in 1911. Their sister Mary (Curran) still lived in Mackay. They also farewelled their sister Mary and her husband Harry, and children Patsy and Joe, who where then about seven and four years old. Mary had suffered ill health for many years, and they were living in Clermont, Central Queensland.

The Employment Agency was sold to Miss Emily Rowe, who carried on for many years supplying staff to stations and properties all over Queensland. Miss Rowe was still a great friend of Mum’s until Miss Rowe died well in her eighties when I was in my twenties.

The voyage to China in 1914 must have been a very eventful trip for two Australian ladies to embark on. It was not a very large vessel and to add to their discomfort, they were buffeted by quite a severe typhoon in the China Sea. Mum told me they were very seasick and felt dreadful. She spoke of the kindness of the cabin boy who tried to tempt the palates of “the little miss’s” with some delicacy he would bring from below. Those days it would have taken some weeks for the journey, whereas today, in a modern jet aircraft, the same journey may be made in a few hours.

They eventually arrived in Shanghai, and no doubt Jack and Ann would have been married shortly after. They would both have been in their early forties, and had wasted so many years by not being together. They lived in Shanghai for some time and from all accounts they had a wonderful life. They had a busy social life and servants to do the work. They had so many friends, many of them fellow Customs Officers.

Amongst those friends was an English man, Oliver Clark, about thirty years old. He was born in Cambridge, but had lived in Newtown, mid-Wales, for many years with his family. There are still four cousins living in Wales, three in Newtown and another Clark cousin in Kent, England with whom I keep in regular contact. Apparently Oliver and his father were not compatible, so he left home and went to Canada, where he lived and worked for some years. He then went to China where he worked for the British Customs.

In October 1915, Oliver and Gladys were married. They were married six hundred miles up the Yangtze River, where Oliver was stationed at a place called Yichang. That is the pronunciation but the names have all been changed, also the spelling. They were married by a French Jesuit Priest and then by the British Consul. From what I can remember, I think by that time Jack and Ann had been transferred to Tsinsin (Tiensin), much further north, and were unable to travel to the wedding.

My father had obtained the engagement and wedding rings from elsewhere. I still wear Mum’s wedding ring on my right hand and the lovely diamond of the engagement ring, which was re-designed for me at the time of my own engagement in 19441. They lived in this small town, with only a few hundred foreigners (whites) for some time, and eventually were transferred to Shanghai.

At this time, In Tsinsin, Jack and Ann were expecting their first child, and when six months later Oliver and Darl found they were also to be parents, both families must have been so happy. Mary Gorman was born on 4th July 1916, and just two days later on 6th July 1916, her dear mother Ann died suddenly. Mum also received a letter from Australia telling her of the death of her older sister, Mary, in Clermont on 23rd June 1916, just two weeks before the death of Ann.

The shock of the loss of those two wonderful sisters, who had helped to bring her up since the death of their mother when Darl was very young, almost caused her to lose her baby and she was very ill. However, Mason was born on 27th December 1916. He was a huge baby at 14 lbs and as Mum was very small-boned, must have been quite a shock. Then, one year and eight months later on 21st August 1918, I was born, and named Olive after my father. Then another twenty months later, Joy Margaret was born on 8th April 1920. Fortunately both Joy and I were only seven pounders.

How happy they must have been with their little family of three.
Then came the greatest tragedy of all. Just six weeks after the birth of Joy, on 24th May 1920, Oliver, our dear Dad and her beloved husband of only five years, died after a short illness. He died of pneumonia and pleurisy and had been taken by launch across the Yangtze River late the night before his death as the Doctor was concerned for him. Unfortunately he died very early the following morning. They had been so happy in those few years and Mum had known such heights of happiness and depths of sadness in so short a time.

Uncle Jack and Mum’s friends helped her tidy up her affairs and make her farewells. Then Uncle Jack and four year old Mary accompanied Mum and we three small children on the sad trip back to Brisbane. We arrived on my second birthday, 21st August 1920. We were met at the wharf by old friends, Fred and Molly Morley of New Farm, and I think we stayed overnight before going up to Toowoomba. There we stayed with the Gorman family.
Uncle Jack and Mary returned to China and did not return to Australia until 1929.

1Olive’s engagement ring was stolen by young intruders in about 2000.

Mum became very ill and had a complete breakdown. The result of the shocks and the breakdown stayed with her all her life, and she would frequently have very severe fits. She also suffered from very painful Neuritis.’

Our wonderful friends, the Gormans, looked after us until Mum was able to take charge again and bring us up without our father in a world which was then experiencing severe post-war depression. This she did very courageously with many, many ups and downs. Due to the Depression, she suffered a severe business loss, and from then on the going was very tough indeed.

In the year 1935, while she was still at school, Joy became very ill with what was later diagnosed as Tuberculosis. She spent twelve months in hospital and then spent the last year of her life at home with us. She died on 26th April 1937 at only 17 years of age.
Mum lived with me for many years and I am so glad that Mason’s son Robert and my four children – John, Patricia, Joan and Noela – all knew her. She died at the age of 81 years on 3rd January 1968.

To her memory, we owe our Love and Gratitude.

May she rest in peace


Click here to see Oliver Clark's service history with the Chinese Maritime Customs. (see page 12) It shows he was employed from January 1908 until his death in May 1920. He started his career as a Watcher, and at the time of his death was Assistant Examiner. For more information on employees of the Chinese Maritime Customs for the period 1854 - 1949 visit the Bristol University study at http://www.bris.ac.uk/history/customs/ Note that until 1912 it was named the Imperial Maritime Customs Service

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mt Isa - Chapter 3

The sun rises later and sets later here in the west. The mornings are gloriously dark and velvety until at least 7am. When the sun rises, the rocky escarpments I can see outside my window turn iridescent orange thanks to the high iron ore content in the rocks. I think the thing I love best about the outback is the combination of those two colours – the orange and the sage green. The orange hues change from muted, burnt sienna to a bright, red-hot-poker fiery colour depending on the time of day. The dusky, olive green of the spinifex grass compliments beautifully the grey-green leaves of the ghost gums with their stark white bark. The colours immediately say to me that I am in the outback of Australia.

Mt Isa city has a population of about 24,000. They have no public transport system at all, only taxis. Nearly everyone drives everywhere, even short distances. They balk at walking more than a few hundred metres. One of my colleagues rides an electric tricycle all over town. It is relatively flat in the town, although high ridges made of orange rock and a few scrubby tufts of spinifex rise abruptly out of nowhere circling the town. These outcrops also pop up here and there right in the middle of the town which seems somehow odd.

On top of one such outcrop, there is the City Lookout. It is a great place to see the town sprawling out from the entrance to the mine. Looking south-east you can see the mammoth mine with its chimney stacks spewing forth a non-stop plume of black smoke. Turning around to face north-west, you get a birds eye view of Buchanan Park – home of the famous Mount Isa Rodeo, the richest rodeo event in the country. Come the first weekend in August and Buchanan Park will be alive with the sound of country rock bands, Bundy drinking crowds in Akubras, the sounds and smell of cattle and horses, and the ubiquitous shout of “cowboy up!”

The mine dominates the town, and indeed is the reason for the town being born here in the 1920s. Everyone here works in the mine. A first year apprentice mechanic gets $70,000pa. The mine works 24 hours a day. At night it is a thing of beauty with lights that, from a distance, look like fairy lights on a Christmas tree, glowing against a pitch black background.




The first thing you notice about Mt Isa as you drive in from the airport is the black, orange and white chimney from the smelter. This is the original one. I can still see this stack rising proud and tall from the old black and white slides that my Dad took when he was living and working here in Mt Isa in the early 1950s. There are two other larger chimneys now but they are a boring concrete grey and not nearly so iconic as the old one.

The other outcrops that are close into town have giant concrete water tanks atop them, or aerials and beacons. But one that I can see outside my motel window has a glorious homestead sitting majestically above the TAFE where I am working. What a spot!

As you cross the Leichardt River, you notice it has no water in it. Just a dry gravel bed. Up here in the north, there are only two seasons – the wet and the dry. Summertime it pours and every second year or so the Leichardt floods and there is only one bridge across it navigable for weeks on end. There are flood warning signs everywhere. The locals take this rude intrusion into their laid back lifestyle very calmly. Just something that has to be dealt with.

Driving the 13 kilometres out to Lake Moondarra was akin to being 600 k’s from Alice. Five minutes out of town and you are in the scrub. The bumpy, flood ravaged and often repaired bitumen road was an event in it’s own right as I was the passenger in a very rough 4WD flatbed truck with a bank of 4 massive spotties on the roof for roo shooting.
On the unfenced roadside were herds of magnificent Brahman cattle, looking fat and healthy on the plentiful grey-green grass which amply grew thanks to the record rainfall this place received around Christmas time. Lake Moondarra is Mt Isa’s man-made lake and water supply. A few years ago it was down to only about 10% capacity, but now it is full. A beautiful, shimmering blue oasis in the middle of the outback desert. On a hot summer’s day, my tour guide and work colleague, Lindsay, told me that you can’t get a car park it is so packed out. People water ski, fish for barramundi (artificially stocked) and catfish. They picnic, barbecue, jet ski, swim and hang out. There are lovely picnic areas with all amenities and a flock of peacocks roaming around. From one of the many rocky outcrop lookouts, you can view the whole lake and the concrete spillway. The view from up there is sheer heaven. Right to the horizon on all points of the compass is the great Australian outback which I so dearly love. Scrubby trees, low bushes, red soil, kites flying overhead, tall, pointy red magnetic ant hills. A magic place which the locals are extremely proud of.

The Isan’s, which the locals call themselves, have a good range of shops to choose from, with both major supermarket chains represented plus a very large IGA out at the Overlander shopping centre and hotel right opposite the TAFE where I was working. In town, there is the Buff’s club, a very swanky club with pokies, bars, bistro. Further out of town on the other side of the mine is the equally popular Irish Club. My work colleagues tell me they have a fantastic social life, consisting mainly of barbecues with friends, four wheel driving up and down very steep rocky escarpments (we saw them on the drive out to Lake Moondarra), camping, and many sporting activities which they participate in, being the main relaxation and social activities for them. My Dad joined the local motor cycle club when he came up here in the early 50's. I remember him regailing us with happy stories of the barbecues and beers he had in the bed of the dry Leichardt River.

I have enjoyed beautiful winter weather here this week. It has been almost the same as Brisbane. Cool mornings of about 10 degrees, with sunny warm days getting up to about 23 degrees. However today, my last day, is a bit overcast and there is a definite chill in the strong breeze that tends to go through you and not around you.

I have found the locals to be friendly and welcoming of ‘coasties’ – people who come from coastal areas. Everyone is curious about where you come from. Working up here for the week has been a good experience, getting to know the people and finding out about their unique set of issues and problems associated with the work we do. It took me a few days to get used to the fact that they seem to operate on a different time zone to what I am used to. Mt Isa time. I wish I could package it up and take it back to my hustle and bustle world of work in Brisbane. My stress levels noticeably dropped this week.

I thought of my Dad a lot whilst I was here. From my motel I looked directly at that iconic orange striped chimney stack of the smelter. I can’t help seeing that and not think of my father. His stories and photos of Mt Isa must have made a big impression on me when I was little. I am glad I too now have some stories to tell about Mt Isa. A great place with a lot of character – and characters.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mt Isa - Chapter 2


As I waited to board the plane to Mt Isa, I watched the other passengers. It was so unusual seeing all of them chatting and friendly...they obviously knew each other. Most were dressed in a uniform of orange and navy blue Hi Viz work clothes and most of the men were six pick handles across the shoulders.

I was the odd person out. They all greeted each other by name. This was the commuter flight for the mine workers. They fly home every Friday night and spend the weekends with their families, then fly back every Monday morning.

I thought of my Dad who would have travelled for the best part of 3 days by rail from Brisbane to Mt Isa in the 1950s. No wonder he didn't come home often. These guys have got it easy. And so do their wives.

Sandwiched in between two hefty miners in the plane, I felt secure. I am not the calmest of flyers, so knowing these guys (and many girls) did this week in week out made me feel quite blase about the whole thing.

Flying into 'the Isa' gave me a good look at the barren, rocky landscape. As we descended I could see roads and creeks. Lower still, and I could see the occasional station. Red dirt, rocky escarpments, red roads like veins running through this rugged part of Australia.

Soon we could see Lake Moondarah and then we were landing at Mt Isa. Down the stairs and across the tarmac to the shed which is Mt Isa Airport. The friendly bunch milled around in the midday winter sunshine waiting for our luggage to be brought in. When it came, it was on a train similar to those you would see in a children's play area. Thankfully I saw some men in akubras.

Hello Mt Isa. Nice to see you again!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mt Isa - Chapter 1

I am off to Mt Isa on Monday. It is a work trip, but it is 38 years since I last went there. That is a seriously long time. Makes me feel old.

Last time I was in Mt Isa, I had just turned 17 and was driving through on a nightmare, non-stop, three day, no sleep road trip from Brisbane to Darwin.

But Mt Isa has always been part of our family folklore. I remember at school, when learning about the wonderful benefits the town of Mt Isa bestowed upon our State of Queensland, indeed even our whole nation, I felt a little smug because somehow I felt connected to the place. I always knew where it sat on a map.

Mt Isa was born in the 1920s because they discovered obscene amounts of copper, lead, silver and zinc there. It is still the largest mining town in Australia. In recent times, Mt Isa has probably been one of the major factors in helping the state ride through the recent GFC so well.

My Dad was in a low paid profession. Printing. He worked for all the major printing firms in Brisbane. He must have been desperate to earn more money to feed his reasonably large family of seven (including our Grandmother who lived with us). Either that, or he saw going to work in Mt Isa as a bit of a break. If you know what I mean.

The newspaper The Mount Isa Mail was a new paper, born in 1953 out of the printing houses of Darwin. In mid 1955 they stopped printing the paper in Darwin and began printing at the paper's offices in Gardenia Street, just near the Coal Stage area, near the main gate of Mount Isa Mines.

Throughout my childhood, I remember slide nights, with Dad showing us his extensive black and white slide collection of him socialising at barbecues, riding his Matchless 500 motorbike, drinking beer in the dry Leichardt River bed. My mother would sit quietly, observing the wonderful time Dad had in Mt Isa while she slaved at home, raising the children, looking after her ailing mother.

I am too young to remember Dad going to work in Mt Isa. But I can vaguely remember him coming home. Well, mainly I can remember him bringing home presents - a rare occurrence in our poor family. I don't know if he gave me anything, I only remember that he brought home for my eldest sister a black doll. She called her 'Blackie'.

All these old memories are flooding back. I am off to Mt Isa on Monday. OK, so it is a work trip, not a holiday. But I will be walking in the footsteps of my Dad. I hope to get time to seek out the old Mount Isa Mail offices in Gardenia Street.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First blog

I have decided to start a blog in order to connect with people who share the same passions as myself - travelling, writing, experiencing other cultures, being a citizen of the world through learning about other countries and the people who live there.

I have travelled reasonably extensively and as I travel through my own life's journey, I intend to do more travel and to keep those memories alive by writing about them.

When I travel, I enjoy seeing and experiencing the ordinary, daily lives of people. Visiting the top tourist sites where the crowds are big is not as important to me as experiencing a place in an intimate way.
- walking the streets of Paris just as the sun rises, watching her wake up to greet the day. Seeing the bins being collected, the footpaths being swept off, smelling the first of many loaves being baked;
- catching a crowded commuter train in Italy where the locals crowd on clutching everything from bags of fresh produce to live chickens in cages;
- visiting a family in their home in a village in south-western China, sharing tea with them, feeling the warmth of their hospitality and communicating by smiling.

In this blog, I want to post my memoirs and stories about my journeys. Some will be recent trips, others will be a few years old, but all still live very vividly in my mind.

I hope you will join me on my journey.

Sincerely, Noelle.