Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Taphophile Tragics - Hen wlad fy nhadau


The memory is easy to dredge up: a run-down shack sitting atop of road-cutting, the living room gloomy and black, in the centre a wood stove with a massive pot of soup bubbling. Bending over is a stick-figure of a woman in dark clothing, with a large nose, and a strange-sounding voice. But this is overlaid with two more flashes: throwing up in the passenger well of a 1949 Holden FX; and, visiting cemeteries. Always. Every weekend. Visiting cemeteries. I was anything from 2 years to 8 years.


And the cemetery was Point Clare, and the grave was this one: Anglican, Section 8, Row 14, Plot 3. Plot 4 was there, but not inhabited until thirty years later. Solid, isn't it? And dark. And gloomy. Margaret Olwen Selby, nee Hughes: my maternal grandmother. Dead aged 55 years, from a massive stroke.


Which takes me back to the 'land of my fathers' (Hen wlad fy nhadau). It sounds as Welsh as one can get: Margaret Olwen Hughes. From Towyn in Merionithshire, but working 'in service' in London when she meets a miniscule Australian 'digger' simply trying to survive. The Australian government ships her out on a war-bride ship early in 1920 and she marries Cecil Roy Selby in the May, my mother, Olwen Dorothy, being born in the July of 1921. Life doesn't get easier: the emphysema from the gassing in the trenches is compounded by the multi-pack a day habit (except they were Craven-A roll-yer-owns), and the genetic predisposition to imbibing the amber liquid.


Her expectations were not high: but higher than working below stairs in London; higher than not-working beneath the slag-heaps of Towyn. A son came along three years later, and a 'mistake' 14 years after that. She lives beside the railway tracks in Tempe: two brothers-in-law in the same street; and a father-in-law who shunts from house to house, a season at a time. The memorial is hard to read, covered in black mould, sans fleurs, sans attention.


I want to yell out 'But, she wasn't a bloody Anglican, she was a raving Baptist', but who am I, a mere teller of tales, to argue with the wisdom of the times. For the record the photographs are:
Top: Left Olwen Dorothy and Margaret Olwen - Both known as Olie
the memorial to Margaret Olwen Selby in Point Clare Cemetery
Left: Cecil Roy Selby gets some height, his daughter on the right
The inscription: to my dear wife and our mother
Margaret's birth certificate, and a card to her newly married daughter
Ode to the best organised little cemetery 'in the world'



This is my contribution to the Taphophile Tragics community.

26 comments:

Margaret said...

I enjoy visiting cemeteries.
Top photo--love the lady on the right! (and her hat).
Margaret

biebkriebels said...

You made a wonderful story again. The woman on the right looks really special, almost like a man? She was not ready for the beauty contest I think.

Julie said...

*grin* ... yes, not ready for the beauty contest. My childish imagination equated her with a 'witch'. She lived a very hard life, and I suspect may have been an alcoholic, too, but have no specific evidence of this.

Julie said...

I do have another image of my grandmother, sitting on my father's motor-bike in 1942, and she is sewing ...

Jo said...

yes another wonderful post.
If only more cemeteries put in this sort of effort, it would all our lives much easier.

marbletowns said...

Lovely story. And this cemetery is interesting -- different from so many of the ones I've visited.

Ann said...

What a story.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

There is a novel here waiting to be written.

Joe said...

Great post Julie. Me thinks you are more than "a teller of tales" Julie. You really do carry us away with your words.

Gemma Wiseman said...

I have read this a couple of time to absorb it all! I keep returning to Tempe and living by the railway line! I remember travelling through Tempe so many times when I lived at Oatley - near the railway line. I always felt that Tempe was like a lost soul in limbo - not really city but somehow not really suburbs and not really evolving out of yesterday. Always intended to venture there and get a closer view but never did. Intriguing family story and adore the character captured in that first photo!

Julie said...

It probably will not surprise you all that this is the family line with the convicts and the hangman.

Nicola Carpenter said...

What an amazing sounding woman. Such an interesting post. I loved it.

Beneath Thy Feet

hamilton said...

You haver a fascinating family line!

Deb said...

Another great story, well told and illustrated as ever. If the Towyn you speak of is the Tywyn (modern spelling) in Gwyned (formerly Merioneth) as opposed to the Towyn in Conwy then I spend a lot of time there! My partner inherited a share of a house in the town and we visit regularly 5 or 6 times a year.

Julie said...

I will look into those two areas, Deb, but I think it is the one that you visit. My brother has visited there, and has photographed the house in which our grandmother was born in 1897.

Julie said...

Deb: yes, it is the old Merioneth, not the Towyn up closer to Liverpool. Her birth certificate narrows it down by sub-districts etc, but we are talking about the registrations as per 1897. To get her birth certificate, I had to apply via an office over near Manchester somewhere, back in 2003.

Here is what her birth certificate says about where she was born:

35 Frankwell Street
Towyn M.D.
Sub-district = Towyn
District = Machynlleth
Counties = Montgomery & Merionith

My mother used to say that grandma came from Towyn in Merionithshire and I have continued with that nomenclature.

Deb said...

Yes I know Frankwell Street, a row of old stone cottages mixed in with newer bungalows. Place names, especially in Wales, change their spelling regularly, usually from the English variant back to the Welsh.
If you would like a few local photos when I am there sometime let me know, my email address is on the blog

Julie said...

Ooo lovely. I will take you up on that, after I consult with my brother. Her terrace is an old bluestone looking semi-detached cottage. It looks spick'n'span nowadays, but I suspect not back in the 19th century.

bill said...

interesting story! When walking through cemeteries, I wonder who the people were and what were their stories. Lots of history that we don't even know. Thanks for sharing a little of yours.

VioletSky said...

Your family history is fascinating. I know so little about any of my ancestors and as far as I know there aren't any gravestones that anyone has found.

Chrissy Brand said...

Some very moving personal history Julie. Thank you, it was a fascinating read. Like Deb in York above, I am not long back from modern day Tywyn on the west Wales coast which I think is the one you refer to. There is another Towyn but that is on the north Welsh coast...

Julie said...

Thanks, Chrissy. After Deb's comment last night, I spent ages on Google maps working out which Tywyn I meant, and you are both correct. It is the one on the west coast, not the NW coast.

It seems to me so small, and yet two readers have visited recently. Quote astounding.

CaT said...

wow, you visited cemeteries every weekend when you were that young? did you like it?
my mom took me everywhere around the netherlands when me and my sister were young. by train. i often hated it, as we couldnt play outside like the other kids. we went to museums and whatnot... isnt it horrible that only now i can appreciate this?

oh, and i love biebkriebels comments. she is so very dutch! :D

Joan Elizabeth said...

My goodness Grandma does look like she would cook with a cauldron.

Interesting comment about visiting cemeteries so often ... I was remembering the other day how my Grandmother visited the cemetery every week without fail. I can't imagine doing such a thing ... I can take or leave the cemetery even where my parents are buried. I always think of them as enjoying life in heaven so the grave it not all that important.

Julie said...

Both CaT and Joan: I think that back even in the olden days of he 1950s, it was the absolute done thing for the family to journey to the cemetery on the weekend, usually Sunday. We were not the only family who did this. And my grandmother was only 55 and went so suddenly, it had a massive impact upon my mother. It was not so much the visiting the cemetery that I did not like; it was the vomiting in the car each and every journey as we travelled the twisting Pacific Highway between Sydney and Gosford. I can smell that road even today.

Joan Elizabeth said...

I remember another odd thing ... my grandfather died unexpectedly at age 60. Mum travelled from Queensland without Dad for the funeral. She told me told me that women didn't go to the burial (not sure about the funeral) ... not even Nana for her husband! Mum was 'allowed' to go because she didn't have a husband to 'represent' her. How incredibly odd ... come to think of it Nana didn't have a husband to represent her either!!