Monday, 21 April 2014

The Coburg Cowboys raise money for the war effort

Ride ‘em cowboy!

Coburg Cowboys at Parker’s farm, north east Coburg. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Around the time of the First World War, the Coburg Cowboys were local celebrities. They had their headquarters at the ‘Southern Cross Ranch’ in Bell Street and began appearing around the traps in about 1910.

Indian Pomp was their chief and he led a team of over twenty local men who performed dare devil feats on horseback for huge crowds all around the suburbs. His riders included Duckfoot Bowden, Tenderfoot Howden, Bluegum Leo, Buffalo McGann, Rooster Hodson and Mustang Robson.

Rodeo. c1914. Leo ‘Rooster’ Hodson on the right.
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

The Coburg Cowboys were prominent in fund-raising carnivals all over Melbourne during the war years and by 1916 at least two of their number had enlisted. ‘Broncho Bill’ joined the AIF and by November 1916 was in England, presumably waiting to go to the Western Front. ‘Bud’ Taylor left Australia in 1913 and headed for Texas where he won a number of rough riding competitions. At the outbreak of war he was working on a ranch in Canada. After enlisting in the prestigious Lord Strathcona’s Horse, he served in France.

At this stage I have been unable to discover more about Broncho Bill and Bud Taylor’s war and I don’t know whether any other members of the Coburg Cowboys enlisted, but I’m working on it!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Local singers raise funds for the war effort

Recently, while working on some material at the Coburg Historical Society museum, I came across the sheet music for a popular song of the era, ‘Are you from Dixie? (Cause I’m from Dixie, too!)’. Words by Jack Yellen and music by George L. Cobb. Copyright 1914. 

The song would have been sung at local fundraisers for the war effort and the sense of nostalgia for Coburg (and Brunswick) seen in the words of the song must have been shared by the many men who enlisted from the area.

A sticker has been added to the front: ‘This music is one of the original songs sung by the West Coburg Minstrel Troupe. (Note the change of words to suit Coburg and Brunswick!’)

Minstrel troupes originated in the United States. They were very popular forms of entertainment in their time and made their way to Australia where little thought was given to the issues of race that lay behind the blacking of faces and the mimicking of the stereotype of American blacks as lazy, stupid, superstitious and so on.

West Coburg Minstrel Troupe in November 1935. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

These are the words of ‘Are You from Dixie’ with local alterations:

Verse 1.
Hello, there, stranger, how do you do?
There’s something I’d like to say to you
Don’t be surprised
You’re recognised!
I’m no detective but I’ve surmised
You’re from the place where I long to be,
Your smiling face seems to say to me,
You’re from my own land
My sunny homeland
Tell me can it be?

Are you from Dixie? (Coburg?)
I said from Dixie (Coburg)
Where the fields of cotton beckon to me (Where the walls of Pentridge beckon to me)
I’m glad to see you
Tell me how be you
And the friends I’m longing to see
If you’re from A-la-ba-ma, (Murr-um-bee-na)
Tennessee (Camberwell) or Caroline (Old Brunswick)
Any place below the Mason Dixie Line (This side the Yarra that’s the trick)
Then you’re from Dixie (Coburg)
Hurray for Dixie (Coburg)
‘Cause I’m from Dixie (Coburg), too!

Verse 2.
It was away back in eighty nine,
I crossed the old Mason Dixon line (Coburg Brunswick line)
Gee! But I’ve yearned.
Longed to return to
All the good old pals I left behind
My home is way down in Alabam’ (near Brunswick)
On a plantation near Birmingham (On a poultry farm near Merri Creek)
And one thing’s certain,
I’m surely flirtin’
With those south-bound trains.

The inside front cover of the sheet music for ‘Are you from Dixie?’ features part of ‘He died at the Dardanelles’. Inside the back cover is the title page of ‘We’re proud of you, Australia (or The Battle of the Dardanelles)’, written and composed by Jack A. Little.

Once I started to search on the internet, I realised just how many patriotic songs were released during the war years. Here are just a sample.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Robert Holden’s And the Band Played On

This newly released book has gone on to my ever-growing list of ‘must reads’, especially as I have been interested in the role of music in lifting the soldiers’ spirits (and those at home) for many years – since my mother introduced me to Skipper Francis’s stirring song ‘Australia will be there’, one of the most popular songs of World War One. Mum heard it as a young girl in the 1920s and remembered the tune and words. I found the sheet music in a collection of old songs, then began to look around for other songs of the time. I’m still looking and still finding more. I’ve now added poetry to my search, so if anyone reading this has suggestions for either Australian songs or poetry or short stories that I could add to my collection I’d be very interested in hearing from you. 

I’ve also been interested in Australian folk music since I was a teenager and have read widely on Australia’s folklore, the great storytelling tradition and all those stereotypes that we now associate with the Diggers at the front: reckless bravery, taking the mickey out of the bombastic British officer class, irreverent humour and most of all mateship.

This should come as no surprise to those of you who follow this blog, given that I chose the title ‘Fighting the Kaiser’, taken from a popular parody of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

Fighting the Kaiser, fighting the Kaiser,
Who'll come a-fighting the Kaiser with me?
And we'll drink all his beer, and eat up all his sausages,
Who'll come a-fighting the Kaiser with me!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Bad Characters

In my last post I wrote about a Coburg man who deserted. There were others, of course. And there were others still who committed crimes and were sentenced to long gaol terms, some of which they completed on their return to Australia.

Historian Peter Stanley has written a book about those Australians who did not live up to the Aussie digger as hero image (and there were many of them) and if you want to get a more balanced view of what life was like for our soldiers at war, I can highly recommend it. It was published in 2010 by Murdoch Books and you’ll probably be able to find it through your local library service.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Deserters and the pain they left behind

So much of our focus when we think of war is on war heroes.
We remember the men and women who died and in our collective memory they all died heroic deaths, although, as I have shown in this blog, many died by accident, through illness, quirks of fate or as the result of wounds they received before they’d even had a chance to fight.
We remember the men and women who returned with terrible injuries, physical and psychological, although we don’t always know how to deal with them when they do return.
We remember those who were prisoners of war and we write stories and make movies about their (often horrendous) experiences.
We demonise the enemy as though that somehow that justifies the often unjustifiable acts of our own soldiers, for no one wants to think of their own side as being less than honourable.
We rarely remember the men who spent long periods in prison as a result of their criminal actions while on active service.
We prefer not to think about the men who spent most of their war service being treated for venereal disease.
We rarely speak of soldiers who deserted. Nor do we think of the extraordinary burden their desertion placed on their families.

One such man was 60914 Private William Dunne, also known as William Dunn, Louis Jean Dunne and 2647 Louis Jean Deschamps. His attestation papers run to 124 pages, reflecting the confusion caused by his enlistments and re-enlistments under a variety of names.

Born and bred in Coburg, Dunne was a 19 year old married broom maker living at ‘Kinvarra’, 46 Reynards Street when he enlisted at Coburg in December 1917. He was discharged on 14 March 1918 on account of a hernia that was identified on the morning of embarkation. A week later he re-enlisted at Fitzroy as William Deschamps (his mother’s maiden name), claiming to be from Newcastle, NSW and a motor mechanic. It was soon discovered that he was, in fact, William Dunne, husband of Veronica Dunne. Despite his young age, Dunne had married an even younger Veronica Baylis in 1917. One child, William, was born in 1918, around the time his father left for the war. Another, Lawrence died as an infant in Coburg in 1919.
Dunne embarked for England on the Barambah on 31 August 1918, but did not see active service on account of the Armistice. He deserted on 12 December 1918 and was not seen again.
On 26 March 1919, his allotment to his dependents ceased on account of his desertion, so Veronica Dunne not only had to bear the shame of a husband who was a deserter and endure the death of her infant son Lawrence, but through his actions, her husband had left her to raise their son William without financial support. In 1920, she applied for a living allowance but this was not allowed because he was still illegally absent. 

Veronica Dunne must have found work at Lincoln Knitting Mills in Gaffney Street, Coburg, because in a letter written in 1924 from the Mills’ Silk Rooms she says that he deserted her six years before and she planned to divorce him.

When her son William, a textile worker (a hosiery topper, so he possibly worked at Lincoln Mills), enlisted in World War Two in January 1941 she is recorded as Mrs Veronica Stephens of Officedale, via Officer. William married while in the army, served in New Guinea, survived the war but died in 1947 aged only 29.
Whatever became of William Dunne is a mystery and Veronica Dunne was to suffer the loss of her son soon after another war. But at least the official records have revealed that she did remarry and hopefully she found happiness in this second marriage. She died in Parkville in 1966 aged only 65.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Let’s talk of ocarinas and other things

The Fleiner family of Coburg: another story demonstrating the interconnectedness of things.

While I was researching the Coburg Art Festivals of the 1940s, I came across a reference to a James Fleiner who played an ocarina solo in the Coburg Branch of National Theatre Movement’s production of ‘Variety Steps Out’ in 1948.
Curious, I looked a little further and found that Jim Fleiner had a hairdresser’s shop at 579 Sydney Road, Coburg. He used to make films and show the films in his shop. He also ‘played the tin whistle for his young customers.’ (Broome, Coburg between two creeks, p.306)

Image of Jim Fleiner’s hairdresser’s shop in about 1938. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Arthur Whitbread and James Fleiner (on right) at corner of Waterfield and Bell St Coburg, 1923. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Jim’s brothers Fred and Leslie served in the 1st AIF.

5096 Private Frederick Thomas Fleiner, 14th Infantry Battalion.

Frederick (Freddie) Fleiner, a labourer, enlisted on 21 January 1916 aged 18. He had been born in Albury, NSW in 1895 but his parents Phillip and Mary moved to 12 Linda Street, Coburg where they lived from at least 1909 until the death of his father in 1916 while he and his brother were on active service. Frederick attended Moreland State School and his name is found in several Coburg typed lists of names connected with the Coburg Roll of Honour, although his name is not listed there. He died in 1982 at Heidelberg.

669 Private Leslie Fleiner, 31st Infantry Battalion.

Leslie Fleiner, a bookmaker’s clerk, enlisted  on 12 July 1915 aged 21 years 10 months. Like his younger brother Freddie, he had been born in Albury, NSW but was educated at Moreland State School while the family was living in Linda Street, Coburg.  On his return to Australia in June 1918 with a severe shell wound to his forearm, he lived with his widowed mother for a time at 115 Bell Street, Coburg.

And, as is the way in all research, the Fleiner family were connected with another World War One soldier from the area. Jim Fleiner, our ocarina playing hairdresser, married Louisa Johnston, sister of Donald (Don) William Johnston who served in A Company, 7th Battalion and left with the first contingent. Don was killed in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 8 May 1915.

Don was the son of Andrew Johnston of the Thistle Cyle Shop (and later the Coburg Motor Garage) at 288-290 Sydney Road, Coburg where he built his own ‘Thistle’ brand bicycles. A stalwart of the Coburg Cycling Club, Andrew Johnston ‘fostered cycling in Coburg, trained various elite cyclists and was president of the club for the 15 years to 1920,’ according to descendant Barb Wilcox. Donald was a member of the Coburg Cycling Club and would have participated in many of the cycling and social activities sponsored by the club.

Thistle Cycle Club Outing to Campbellfield, c.1903.
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Coming to terms with loss

The wills available online have helped me to identify a soldier whose name appeared on the Town of Coburg Honour Board as W.A. Brown.
I now know that W.A. Brown was William Alder Brown, a 27 year old builder who lived in Hatter St., West Coburg. He’d been born in London but brought up in Hobart where he had served his apprenticeship. At the time of his enlistment his father William George Brown was the Council Clerk in Hamilton, Tasmania so William junior was already away from home when he enlisted.
683 Private William Alder Brown, 14th Battalion, enlisted at Brunswick on 1 December 1914. He only saw one day of action, the day he was killed, 2 May 1915. He was buried at No. 3 Courtney’s Post. In a terrible twist of fate, his younger brother Harold, who served as a Tasmanian, was killed on the same day, on his first day of action.
Not only did their parents lose their only sons on the same day, but they had to grapple with the fact that Harold’s body was never found.

In the following letters from their father found in their service records we can see how their parents struggled to come to terms with their loss. It shows the extra burden of placed on families whose mourning was done from a great distance with little likelihood of visiting the graves of their children, if there were graves to be visited.