In your own words

I have never heard an ancestor come through so clearly as I have my Grandfather over the last few days. Usually my interest is in long dead ancestors so searching for someone so close is a bit of a novelty.

I avoided my grandfather for many years as there was some estrangement in the last few years of his life. I was totally estranged from my father and my grandfather did not agree with my decision. The end result was that I was estranged from my grandfather as well as my father. This I found both easy and hard. Hard, because I really liked my grandfather and found him quite an interesting person and easy because I was in my early twenties, self absorbed as many people in their early twenties are and caught up with moving to a new city and doing a degree. So our lives diverged and although there was never an intent not to see each other again, that was the result. So the last time I saw my grandfather was when I moved to Queensland and the next time I was in his neck of the woods it was to go to his funeral some six years later.

My memories of my grandfather are a bunch of mixed up stories. Some of which I got wrong and some of which I got right. I remember him telling me about his plate that was hinged in the middle so that he could fold it up when he went bush walking. I remember him telling me about one friend who used to cut the ends of his tooth brushes and belts to make them lighter when he went bush walking and another who had a tea chest with straps for his back pack. Because it was a wooden box he had made square billies so that they could pack into the corners. Equally my grandfather told me of his father who was born on the Russian Steps. I remember my parents laughing at this one and telling me that it was a joke but I didn’t get it and still don’t know why he told me that. It obviously meant something to my parents but nothing to me and still doesn’t. My great grandfather was born in England, and as far as I knew, had never been to Russia.

However, through all the stories I sometimes found it difficult to tell when he was telling me the truth and when he was not, something that I have found a difficult thing with many of the Bean family. So it was with delight that I read about Grandpa and his hinged plate and the wooden back pack and some of the other things that he had mentioned while searching for information about him recently

Ray Bean had a tin plate hinged in the middle for easy packing. ―Mouldy Harrison visited from camp-fire to camp-fire while meals were being prepared, always with a spoon in his hand. He was a hungry-gutted lad but oh so-polite! Who could refuse him a sample of what was in their billy? This ploy no doubt lessened the amount of food he had to carry, but in the interests of further lightness he cut the handle off his toothbrush and unnecessary dangling inches off his belt and bootlaces. We really watched the ounces in those days! REFLECTIONS by Paddy [From The Sydney Bushwalker 21st Anniversary Supplement 1948]

Uncopyable was Taro’s unique, neatly varnished wooden pack which stood upright on the ground like a dresser, with shelves and cupboards neatly packed with calico tent, his nest of soldered square billies, and his easily prepared food ready to hand as soon as he sat down. Special glass-walled compartments housed his compass and watch, which could be referred to without unpacking. REFLECTIONS by Paddy [From The Sydney Bushwalker 21st Anniversary Supplement 1948]

Equally over recent months it has been my delight to hear my grandfathers words coming through from sources other than my memories. I have been going back over the Sydney Bush Walkers Magazines. Those who are doing the job of scanning and converting all of these magazines into searchable text are doing an amazing job. It has massively helped me be able to search for my Grandfather and see articles that he has written and small snipets about his life. Congratulations at his first marriage and the birth of his children, mention of his singing and later that of his children, comments about his quirky sense of humour. But mostly his own words and his creativity.

For example, on a cold wet evening over Easter Ray Bean went out for a bush walk that didn’t quite go to plan. He later wrote an article on this walk and here are some of his descriptions;

“At Little Hartley stood another sign and on that sign was “Six Miles to Cox River” but it didn’t say what type of miles they were. They were the longest, coldest, wettest and most miserable miles in existence. When about five of those miles lay behind us we began to go down into a valley, and when my teeth ceased emulating a castanet’s band I told Bill that the line of trees in the valley was the Cox and he said “I know”, but how he knew puzzles me because he had never been there before. Neither had I. …”

“At this juncture I heard a slight disturbance behind me and looking around saw Bill pivotting at terrific speed on the wet clay, he created a grand finale by throwing his feet in the air, making a forced landing, to lie prone upon the ground with the rain falling on his upturned face.”

“When the profanity had cleared the atmosphere and warmed it a little we saw along the bank of the river (where the road crosses) some large camp fires, but we knew they did not belong to our party because that’s where they said they would be. We found than a mile down river, a mile that took us an hour to cover owing to nettle forests and rabbit warrens as big and as deep as a well. At long last we arrived in camp and ate and ate, just pausing long enough to tell the rest of the party what we thought of the trip.” [Sydney Bush Walker Magazine August 1935]

Usually when researching an ancestor it is extremely rare to hear them speak in their own words. To date, I have not come across one ancestor who was considerate enough to keep a diary or to write copious letters. I have few who have even been convicts and none with lengthy trials that were quoted word for word in the News Papers of the day. So there has always been a paucity of words that I could rely on to tell the stories about my ancestors. Thank you Ray for being considerate enough to write things so that one day I could find them.

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