It's a Small World dollhouse image from Kate Hedley Firfax media https://www.watoday.com.au/national/western-australia/remember-it-s-a-small-world-west-perth-its-mastermind-is-still-making-memories-20190410-p51cz5.html

It’s a Small World

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Many iconic locations form the backdrop of the book. How many do you remember?

Growing up in the 1980s, a visit to It’s A Small World in West Perth was always the highlight of my school holidays. I can’t say how many times we visited the Lilliputian world of magic, but the thought of it still brings a smile to my face: a six-foot tall dolls house with over 50 intricately decorated rooms and working lights, the fairy tale scenes the moving trains, the giant concrete frog out the front that greeted you on approach and didn’t always seem to stick to the script.

My memories are of stairs going in all directions, Hogwarts-style, rooms with creaking floorboards crammed with tiny treasures, many behind glass or just tantalisingly out of reach. There were buttons everywhere, to turn on lights or music, to make things move. There seemed to be something new and different every time we visited.

Reaching the shop where you could buy so many of the tiny pieces of furniture and miniaturised groceries and food, was a mixed blessing. You might be lucky to walk out with some tiny new gift to take home, but it also meant your adventure was almost over.

It’s a Small World opened in 1978 and operated for more than two decades, before closing in 2000. During that time, owner Shirley Putnin, who made most of the miniatures herself, saw her diminutive utopia grow from a single room to eventually taking over the entire sprawling house, which is how I remember it.

Increasing rents drove her from West Perth, but Shirley’s retirement was short-lived, and soon after opened a shop called Miniature World in Kardinya, which apparently is still open. I hope to visit soon with my daughters.

What is your favourite memory of It’s a Small World?

It's a Small World dollhouse image from Kate Hedley Firfax media https://www.watoday.com.au/national/western-australia/remember-it-s-a-small-world-west-perth-its-mastermind-is-still-making-memories-20190410-p51cz5.html

One of the 56 rooms from the It’s A Small World dollhouse. Image used with permission, credit Kate Hedley, Fairfax Media

 

UWA Student Protests Stops Traffic

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Many iconic locations form the backdrop of the book. How many do you remember?

In my book, Cordelia and her friends start their degrees at the University of Western Australia in 1965. At the time, the Uni was more than half a century old, having grown from 184 students when it opened its doors in 1913 to 3,800 students in 1962.

As the student population grew, so did the need for off-campus residential halls. St George’s College was the first to open in 1931 and within the next two decades four more colleges had opened. Located directly across the road from the university, the string of residential colleges were often referred to as ‘College Row’ hosting inter-college events and competitions.

Separating the colleges from the main campus was busy Stirling Highway, a multi-lane road which still acts as one of the main thoroughfares between Fremantle, the western suburbs and the Perth CBD.

By the mid-60s, it was estimated the 750 students of College Row made as many as 4,000 crossings every day, and while there were traffic lights, they were for cars only, and not designed to assist pedestrians.

In 1967, a 19 year old student was hit and killed by a car on Stirling Highway as she attempted to cross back to her residence at St Catherine’s College. She was the second student to die in as many years and many others had been injured.

Students began to lobby the authorities for a safe underpass crossing, but no progress had been made when another student was almost killed two years later in 1969. Tired of waiting for formal lobbying to bring results, the students of UWA took a different approach and staged a sit-down protest on the afternoon of Friday 28th March, 1969. Hundreds of bodies created a major roadblock for peak-hour traffic and an even bigger headache for university officials and police. Apparently, some students even brought along shovels and tools and began digging their own tunnel to further hammer home their point.

The subsequent furore and widespread support from both the media and community led to an underpass beneath Stirling Highway being constructed and opened for use by September 1970.

The underpass was built too late to be of any help to the characters in my story, so they had to run the gauntlet of peak hour traffic when heading to the bus stop, but it was an interesting piece of history that deserved to be shared.

Have you ever used the UWA Underpass?

Image of the UWA underpass circa 1975 sourced from https://www.web.uwa.edu.au 

 

The Meckering Earthquake

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Many iconic locations form the backdrop of the book. How many do you remember?

The Meckering quake, on October 14th 1968 may not have been the largest earthquake to hit Western Australia, but it was certainly the most devastating. In less than a minute, the 6.9 quake had all but destroyed the small town of Meckering, damaging the hotel, hall, bank, three churches and 60 of the town’s 75 houses. Roads were split open, railway lines twisted like spaghetti and the steel water pipeline was compressed into itself.

A massive crack opened the earth, a terrifying rupture almost 40 kilometres long, parts of which are still visible today.

The Meckering Fault Line, 1968, aees.org.au

The earthquake was felt across the state, from Geraldton to Albany and neighbouring towns Northam and York suffered damage of their own. Perth, only 130km from the epicentre, experienced shaking and damage and many stories of the day have been shared on the Lost Perth Facebook group.

According to one contributor, on the day of the earthquake, the Junior French oral exams were taking place in the Arts Building at the University of Western Australia. The tea-room was full of staff and examiners taking a break between sessions when the quake hit, prompting cries of ‘tremblement de terre!’ and everyone dashing downstairs to safely.

It was an anecdote too perfect not to share, and so on the day of the Meckering Earthquake my main character Cordelia happens to be sitting in a quiet space in the Arts Building courtyard just as the French examiners come tumbling out of the doors, exclaiming in French.

meckeringPub-Hall_27 aees.org.au

Meckering Public Hall 1968, aees.org.au

The quake not only devastated the town physically, but socially, with 45 families leaving Meckering on the day, never to return. Many more were to follow.

One thing which surprised me when doing research for my book, is discovering that Western Australia is home to one of the largest fault lines in the world, the Darling Fault, an (oxymoronic) monster stretching 1,000 kilometres from Albany to Shark Bay.

Despite its size, the Darling Fault has not experienced a significant event in recorded history. However to the west of the Fault lies the South West Seismic Zone. This area boasts the majority of Australia’s seismic activity, with more than 6,000 recorded earthquakes in the past 50 years, including the horror of the Meckering quake.

In Perth, the impact of the Meckering quake was significant despite the distance. Houses and buildings across the city shook, the Kwinana Freeway cracked, and there was damage to the Physics Building at UWA. The Subiaco pub originally had a spire on top of the corner tower, but damage caused by the quake forced the owners to have the top removed.

Do you have memories of the 1968 Meckering quake?

Thanks to the Australian Earthquake Engineering Society for providing permission to use the images in this article.

EPSON scanner image

Meckering Anglican Church 1968, aees.org.au

 

 

The History of Daylight Saving in WA

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Researching this time frame has brought back many memories – how many do you share?

For anyone who believes daylight saving was invented in the 1980s just to torture children, you may be surprised to learn that the concept of turning the clocks forward to extend the hours of daylight into the evening was first introduced uniformly across Australia during the first World War (1917).

It was used again across the nation during WW2 (1942-1944) but from the 1970s onwards, states have had free reign to decide.

Looking back on my childhood, with the dubious blinkers provided by decades of distance, I thought daylight saving was a constant. I have strong memories of being sent to bed in what seemed like full sunlight, my roller blind always jamming a few inches above ground level, the bright orange sunset bleeding around the edges of my curtains. If you had pressed me, I would have said that we had daylight saving every summer of my childhood during the 1980s, so strong are the memories of fighting with my parents about the unfairness of being sent to bed while the sun was still up.

Naturally, I’d be wrong.

During the research for my book, which is set in Perth during the 1960s to 1980s, I discovered that Western Australia only had daylight saving for two years of my childhood: 1983-84 (when I was six) and 1991-92 (when I was fourteen). There was an enforced trial for three consecutive years from 2006-2009, but by then I had grown up and my bedtime was no longer dictated to me by my mother, but by my newborn daughter.

Perhaps the reason daylight saving is so strong in my memory, although in reality it only directly affected me twice, was because it was constantly being debated in the press and around kitchen tables across the state.

Western Australia has held no less than four referendums on the issue of daylight saving, in 1975, 1984, 1992 and 2009. (As a side note, the only other state referendums carried out by Western Australia were in 1933 which was about seceding from the Commonwealth of Australia, and two separate referendums in 2005 about retail trading hours1.)

The first three referendums were held following a single year trial of daylight saving, and each time the voters returned a vote of ‘no’. Unconvinced West Aussies didn’t want daylight saving, the government then enforced a three year trial from 2006-2009 followed by the fourth and final referendum, which returned the highest ‘no’ vote of all.

The final vote was 54.6% no, 45.3% yes. Interestingly, it showed many of the people living in the coastal and inner suburbs of Perth supported daylight saving, but this was overshadowed by the overwhelming rejection of daylight saving by people living in the eastern suburbs as well as rural and regional areas.

It was decided by the Premier at the time, that the issue would not be raised again for another twenty years2.

sunset-2418090_1280

Sunset over Elizabeth Quay, which actually didn’t exist when I was a child

But even if Western Australia does not participate in daylight saving itself, we are still affected by it every year the Eastern States takes part. Daylight saving in the East increases the time difference between Perth and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to three hours – sufficient to make it challenging for businesses, confusing when you need to call friends and family, and enough of a difference to wreck your sleep when you travel interstate.

I wasn’t alone in thinking that daylight saving formed a major part of my childhood, a brief straw polls among friends also showed many thought battling with parents about bedtime was a fixture growing up.

Turns out we were just being annoying kids, fighting with parents for the sake of it, and daylight saving had nothing to do with it.

 

Further reading: A recent National Geographic article looking at Daylight Saving in the US and its history around the globe.

 

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendums_in_Australia#State_and_territory_referendums
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20090521204833/http://www.thewest.com.au/default.aspx?MenuID=77&ContentID=142031

Coles Cafeteria in the CBD

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Many iconic locations form the back drop of the book. How many do you remember?

Many a trip to the city in my childhood with my Mum or Grandma ended with lunch at the Coles Cafeteria.

Located upstairs in what is now the Target building in the Hay Street Mall, we would mount the steep and narrow escalator to arrive at the large open cafeteria. It will forever be associated with a time when a trip to the city was considered a treat, usually dressed in our best clothes and on our best behaviour.

With no natural light, it seemed somewhat dark but never gloomy to a child who loved the crinkly chips with gravy, pikelets wrapped tightly under plastic wrap or the ubiquitous green jelly with a chocolate frog and swirl of whipped cream.

The first Coles Café opened in the Melbourne store in 1930, taking up an entire floor of the building and seating more than 1,000 people. Its immediate success meant replicas were soon opened across the country.

Coles Cafeteria Melbourne Glen H flikr

This is actually the Melbourne Coles Cafeteria, but I remember the Perth one looking very similar, even down to the lemon yellow salt and pepper shakers on the table. (Image credit Glen H flikr)

Food was served from long counters around the perimeter of the room, while a great expanse of chairs and tables filled the space in the middle. On arrival, you would collect a tray and slide it down the bench, collecting plates of food from the displays as you went. A glass of icy choc milk from the dispenser was the ultimate treat for us (Mum didn’t like us having the green lime coola).

The Coles Cafeteria in Perth remained open until at least the late 1980s. Apparently you can still see some of the old pink and yellow lino flooring in the back passages of the new Target building, but for most of us, it will simply remain a fond memory of childhood.

What was your favourite treat from the Coles Cafeteria?

Atlantis dolphins in the 1980s

Atlantis – Abandoned Marine Park

I recently finished the first draft of a book set in Perth which spans three decades from the 1960s to 1980s. Many iconic locations form the back drop of the book. How many do you remember?

Atlantis Marine Park was built in 1981 as part of an ambitious plan to turn a tiny town at the northern end of Perth’s sprawling metropolis into a standalone satellite city. Established in Two Rocks, 60 km north of Perth, Atlantis became a must-see destination for the people of Perth – for a short while at least.

The image of an enormous carved head of King Neptune smiling down on the park became part of a collective childhood, surrounded by many more limestone sculptures of dolphins, mythical creatures and even celebrity heads (Di and Charles, Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles and more).

Atlantis dolphins in the 1980s

Atlantis dolphins in the 1980s, Julia Leat (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Six months before the park opened, six local bottlenose dolphins were captured and trained to perform together. Images of the dolphins performing in unison and jumping to touch a ball suspended high over the pool, drew crowds in, but ironically it was partially the dolphins’ fault that the park failed.

The birth of three babies and a tightening in regulations meant that the pools built to house the dolphins were too small. The owners were already facing financial issues due to smaller crowds and so the decision was made to close the park in 1990. This often comes as a surprise to many people who grew up in Perth at the time – the fact that Atlantis was only open for 10 years.

Many of the limestone sculptures were transported off site to the Club Capricorn Resort (which itself closed in 2015), while the dolphins began a long rehabilitation project to ready them for a return to the wild. It was only partially successful. Five dolphins were returned to the waters off the coast of Yanchep, to be seen happily frolicking for a number of years. Sadly, one dolphin died and three were unable to be rehabilitated. They were transferred to AQWA (then known as Underwater World) which had opened in 1988 in the Hillarys Marina.

King Neptune from Atlantis Marine Park

KIng Neptune, 2012 Tor Lindstrand (CC BY-SA 2.0)The park itself was left abandoned. It became overgrown and a place for vandals until recently, when a group of volunteers cleaned up the site around King Neptune, where it is now open to curious visitors and dog walkers.

 

Perth Modern School

What’s In a Name? The history of Perth Normal School and Perth Modern

It’s amazing the things you can learn from unexpected places and people. Writers always need to be ready for their next inspiration, because you never know when it will happen.

In 2019 I was shopping for tea-towels – not something I do regularly – and started chatting to the lady behind the counter. The tea-towels were gifts for my daughters’ teachers, and so the conversation moved from teachers to schools, and then we then got to chatting about a school she worked at in New Zealand. She mentioned the name of the school – Papakura Normal School.

I had heard this term before – in researching my novel I had come across Perth Normal School, which was in operation around the turn of the 20th Century. I had always noted the unusual name, but hadn’t investigated any further.

The woman explained that in New Zealand a ‘Normal’ school is one closely linked with the teacher training colleges, and while an average state school might have one or two trainee teachers, the Normal Schools, of which there are more than twenty in New Zealand, are considered the primary training grounds, and where most of the trainee teachers are based.

We laughed about this; if these were the ‘normal’ schools, then by default, all other schools were ‘abnormal,’ but then she mentioned that the name actually came from a French word.

I came home (with my bag of tea-towels) and went straight into research mode.

The concept of Normal Schools actually come from the French idea of ‘ecole normale’ (literally school normal) which was to establish specific schools in which the best practice of teaching was ‘normalised’ for student teachers. They have been around since the 16th century and you can find Normal Schools in the US and Canada, across Europe and also in Australia and New Zealand, including Perth Normal School at the turn of the 20th century.

There isn’t a lot of information about Perth Normal School, but that’s probably because it only existed for four years, from 1907 to 1910. It provides a two year high school program specifically designed for students wishing to train as teachers. If their grades were sufficient, they could then proceed to the Claremont Training College which was the tertiary training facility for teachers from 1902 to 1981.

Prior to 1907,  the pathway to becoming a teacher was a little more patchy. Students would first become a ‘monitor’ with classes at both Fremantle Princess May and Perth Technical School.

A monitor was typically aged between 14 and 18 years who had reached the maximum of education afforded by their own school, and was basically a system where the older and more experienced students helped the younger students. This was a paid role and the annual salary depended upon which examination the student had passed. In 1906 a male monitor who had passed the Junior Certificate would be paid £30, and a female would get £20. If they had passed the Senior Certificate, they would get £56/£40.

By 1904 the monitor classes had been combined at Queen’s Hall in Perth, and then in 1906 moved into new buildings in James Street under the name Perth Central School for Monitors. Finally, in 1907 the school was restructured and renamed Perth Normal School. This formalised and centralised the process, and while it was generally agreed it would lead to better qualified monitors and teachers, there were also those who believed it would dissuade students from outside Perth (in particular from the Goldfields) from pursuing a career as a monitor/teacher, as it required them to move to Perth for the two year program for very little allowance.

If, after the two year program a student’s grade were not sufficient to earn them a place at the Training College, they could stay on as monitors. Their annual salary would increase with experience, although females would always earn approximately 70% of the male salary. To put it in perspective though, a (male) monitor in 1909 could expect to earn only £50 where a (male) student who had passed the teachers B Certificate, would earn £150.

Perth Normal School was closed after only four years at the end of 1910, and unlike many other countries where older schools still retain the term ‘Normal’ in their title to show the historical significance of the role they played in teacher training, most traces of the Perth institution has long disappeared.

What I only learned recently, and thanks to the detective efforts of the ‘Ask A Librarian Service’ at the State Library, was that Perth Normal School and its entire student body of 200 students was simply re-opened in 1911 as a much more well-known educational institution: Perth Modern School, although at the time it was simply called Modern School.

Today ‘Mod’ is known as one of Western Australia’s best public high schools, fully selective and catering only to students who pass strict academic entrance exams. It has produced Rhodes Scholars, Prime Ministers, Governors and more.

When it opened more than a century ago, with its 200 students, there were only eight other high schools in Perth and all were single-sex (five for boys, three for girls). The ‘modern’ philosophy that the school took its name from was two-fold.

First, it was considered the first public co-educational high school in the state accommodating both male and female students*. Second, it would not allow any authoritative corporal punishment that was both common and expected in schools at the time. This very modern school, would instead expect students to manage themselves with self-discipline, not by teachers administering the cane and paddle. At the time, Mod was ground-breaking in its attitude to learning, a truly modern establishment.

Over time the focus on teacher training lessened, to the point today where it is an almost forgotten and unknown aspect of the school’s long history.

It goes to show that the unusual names we hear on a daily basis, often have a deep historical basis that have become forgotten over time, and it’s just those chance conversations, in random places that shed enlightenment.

Where have you found your most unexpected inspiration?

*Although Perth Normal School during its brief tenure was also co-educational.

 

Meeting the Family

A few months back I put out an open letter to the Turpin, Regan and Blair families, asking descendants of these families to get in contact. It was wishful thinking – I wasn’t sure if I ever expected a reply.

Then one day the doorbell rang.

The woman who stood there had never known Doris, but she was family. Doris died long before she was born, but Yolanda was her great niece, and now lived only a suburb away. She promised to send me photographs, and to come back again with more of Doris’ family.

Doris Turpin early 60s at Maralyns wedding

It was a few days later when I opened my letter box and a packet of photographs fell out. The first photo was a black and white image of an older woman clearly taken in the 1960s; she had three strands of pearls at her neck, a hat decorated with flowers perched atop her head, and a pair of ubiquitous cats eye glasses. But it was her smile that captured my heart. This elderly lady, clearly in her 70s looked like such fun. I flicked to the next photo. The same woman but many years younger, smiling widely at the camera, outside in the garden, with a young boy kneeling on her lap, and little girl with a cheeky grin, sitting next to her.

 

In all I had been given almost a dozen photographs, each showing the woman who I never believed I would ever get to see. A woman I had been researching for the better part of a decade, who had walked the same floorboards as I, who looked through the same windows. The woman whose story had inspired a novel and who I knew so much about except what she looked like – and finally, here she was in my hands.

Unknown group with Doris Turpin, front left seated in all white outfit

The most precious was a photo likely taken at Claremont Training College itself, of a teenaged Doris, sitting with five other students. The sepia tones verifies its age, the men are wearing full three piece suits, starched collars, ties and carefully oiled hair. The woman all wear long skirts and button-down shirts with tiny neck bows. Their hands are clasped primly in their laps, their expression blank as required by the time. But one of the men has clearly moved during the photograph: he has four hands and three feet, and perhaps for this reason Doris, dressed all in white, and the man behind her are smiling. The smiling man gazes at something out of frame, he is no longer even looking at the photographer, but Doris – eighteen or nineteen years old – squints at the camera, with the same cheeky smile that is apparent in photos almost fifty years later.

I could not have been more emotional about finally meeting Doris, than if she had been my own long-lost relative. In truth she felt like family.

Weeks later, my new friend Yolanda returned with her aunty Maralyn. Maralyn lived at my house in Daglish in the 1940s when she was very young, and she continued to visit even after the family moved to their new home in Subiaco. She brought with her Doris’ own photo album and diligently went through every photo, pointing out who everyone was, telling little stories like I was a part of the family. She showed us a picture of her on her wedding day in the front lounge – I could recognise the brickwork around the fireplace. It hadn’t changed in 60 years.

Doris Turpin with Kenneth Walter (Dick) and Gwenyth Turpin

Yolanda’s mother was the youngest of the four children, born during the time her family shared the 2 bedroom house on Lutey Avenue with Doris. Yolanda said she had felt an affinity with Lutey Avenue growing up; she would deliberately detour to walk down the small, tree-lined street, although she had no idea that her great-aunt had once lived on the street.

Maralyn shared many stories that afternoon, giving clarity to stories that her older sister Gwenyth, now deceased, had told me over the phone years earlier, and filling in some blanks.

She and her brother and sisters went to Subiaco Primary at the same time Doris was a teacher there. Doris taught upper primary and had the reputation of being a good and fair teacher. Maralyn recalled that the other students would call her ‘Old Turps’, but made Maralyn promise not to tell her Aunty about the nickname. As an adult she remembers asking Doris if she was aware of what the students called her, and Doris had laughed and said that all the teachers knew what the kids nicknames for them were.

It’s hard to quantify what the photos mean, to explain how it felt like to hear stories about Doris from someone who knew and loved her. None of it has any bearing on the fictional story I am writing, but they represent an extra step in my writing journey, an extra piece in the puzzle.

Prior to this I had photos of my ANZAC boys John Regan and Walter Blair. As men, and soldiers who died, they were always more likely to be photographed and mentioned in the papers. But as a woman, Doris was always less likely to be so publicly mentioned. I thought I would never get to see what she looked like. But it is bittersweet seeing her as an old lady, surrounded by family, because there would never be any comparative photos of the boys, who died so young at Gallipoli. They would never be old men, surrounded by loved ones.

Doris Turpin

I now keep a photo of Doris on the wall of my office. She smiles down at me as I work, eyes squinting at the camera, with a smile that suggests she is having a private joke. It never fails to make me smile back, a smile shared over sixty years.

 

These photos of Doris Turpin have been republished with kind permission from Maralyn Johnson (nee Turpin) and Yolanda Savage.

 

Armistice Day 1918: How teachers would have experienced the end of the War

By the time WW1 officially ended, Doris was 25 years old, living at home with her family and working as a teacher at Victoria Park Primary. She had passed an Inspection a month prior, and was employed as a level B1 teacher on an annual salary of £180.

During the war years, enrolments at Vic Park Primary had grown so much, that the school had to hire the local Town Hall as well as erect several marquees on the grounds to hold all the extra students.

For several days, whispers of the Armistice had been reported in newspapers across the nation, leaving the people at home in a terrible state of limbo. But due to the time difference, when the Armistice had finally been signed at 11am (in Paris) on Tuesday the 11th of November, it was already night-time in Perth.

Regardless, the state government called for schools and businesses to be closed the following day.

Without the benefit of the internet, or indeed even private phones, there would have been little warning to the state’s teachers that schools would be closed the next day. It is entirely possible that Doris went into work on Wednesday 12th November like all of her colleagues, only to find the joyful yet confusing situation of the end of the war and no work. Almost certainly some of the students would have arrived as well only to be duly sent home.

The following day, Thursday 13th November, Perth students enjoyed a half day of schooling, expected to attend in the morning for special talks by prominent citizens on the subject of peace, and then dismissed afterwards to enjoy an afternoon of holiday. There was much singing and celebration. While many businesses reluctantly re-opened ‘as far as possible in the present joyful circumstances’, teachers and students alike were informed that schools would also be closed the following day, Friday 14th November.

In effect, the end of the war gave the teachers and students of Perth a five day weekend.

In reality, there was very little to celebrate.

Not only had Doris lost her sweetheart, but at least 46 other teachers from across Western Australia had enlisted and been killed in the Great War, including some she would have studied together with at Claremont Training College.

Even more pressing, the world was in the grip of the Spanish Flu, a devastating epidemic that would ultimately kill more people than the war itself. Each returning ship to Perth was held in quarantine, and across the sea in New Zealand, they had already made the decision to close many of the public schools as a precaution.

Armistice Day may have symbolised the end of the war, but it did not represent the end of the suffering, for the men and women returning home, and for the families and women left bereft by the men who would never return.

 

With thanks to Shannon Lovelady, the incredible WA historian who has overseen the massive project to ensure that all West Australians who served and died in WW1 have been acknowledged and remembered. Learn more about her work here.

poppies

A Grave Discovery

On November 14, 2017 I attended a book talk at Nedlands by Leigh Straw. Leigh is an author and historian and her book ‘After the War’ looks at returned servicemen from WW1 and the mental and physical trauma they brought home with them to Australia. As she so poignantly says, for some of them, the war never really ended.

The talk finished earlier than I expected, so I finally did something I had intended to do for years. I visited Doris Turpin’s grave at Karrakatta Cemetery. It is easy to find the details of gravesites using the Metropolitan Cemeteries website, and I saw that she was buried in one of the Presbyterian plots that back onto Smyth Road, which I would have to drive down on my way home. It seemed fortuitous timing, so I parked my car and began the walk into the cemetery.

I easily found the section she was buried in, but I did not know how to find her specific grave in amongst the hundreds of headstones. This older section of the graveyard was deserted, it felt like it was just me and hundreds of birds singing from the tall trees that are dotted throughout the enormous cemetery, but after a while a worker came past on his little golf cart. He pointed out the metal gravemarkers that showed the numbers of each site, and together we walked to the middle of the section where he pointed out Doris’s grave, situated under a small tree.

Doris had died at the age of 75 but I had never paid much attention to the specific date of her death. It was 14th November, 1968, meaning I was visiting her grave on the exact 49th anniversary of her death. It felt like fate and I wish I’d had the foresight to bring some flowers to decorate her grave.

What I was not expecting, was such a large and modern headstone, made from polished marble in a wave-like shape. I was also not expecting the fact that she shared her plot with other family members.

Gwenyth (Doris’ niece) had mentioned to me over the phone, that her sister Jennifer had died quite young, but had not mentioned that Jenny had been laid to rest with her aunt Doris in 1978, a decade after Doris had passed. In 2005, Jenny’s husband Clive passed away and was buried with Jenny and Doris. The current headstone would have been made in 2005, and there is no way of really knowing what Doris’s original 1968 headstone looked like.

The etching on the stone for Doris reads: In loving memory of my beloved sister Doris I. Turpin. Died 14.11.1968 aged 75 years. This would have been from her younger brother Walter, who as became apparent, preferred to be known by his middle name, Leslie (probably to avoid confusion with his father, also Walter).

I then went to look for Isabella’s grave (Doris’ mother), and found her in an older section of the Presbyterian sector. When I found her grave, I discovered she had been buried with Walter her husband who had died 8 years previously. The original gravesite and headstone for Walter who died in 1920 is very humble compared to some of the nearby graves. His marker reads: In loving memory of Walter, beloved husband of Isabella Turpin. Died 25th July 1920 aged 55 years. Ever remembered.

A marker at the foot of the grave is dedicated to Isabella, a smoother, more polished stone which reads: ‘Also Isabella beloved wife of Walter Turpin. Died 13th May 1928 aged 59 years.’  This sits on a stone plinth of rough grey stone, which matches a row of stones that run around the edge of the gravesite. At the time of her mother’s death, Doris would only have been 34 years, and Walter Jr 27 years old.

I wonder if Doris stood at the end of her parents’ shared gravesite and pondered her future. Would she have considered that she would one day purchase a block of land only four kilometres away, or whether building a house in Daglish was even on her radar.

I learned so much about this loving family, simply by visiting the cemetery in person, and taking the time to see where they rested. There is an incredible amount of history recorded on the gravestones throughout our cities, and for researchers, writers and family historians alike, it is worth taking the time to visit the cemeteries and walk through the stories of the people who came before us, as recorded in stone, for us all to witness.

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