Sunday, June 28, 2015

Who Lived Here?

Walking around the inner city of Newcastle (NSW, Australia) is an interesting exercise, especially on a sunny day.  Last weekend, I stopped at 22 Church Street. It is currently the James Dowling Chambers housing a group of barristers.  Counsel in these chambers practise in a variety of areas including family law, criminal law and civil and commercial litigation.  The first thing I wanted to know was who was James Dowling after seeing his portrait displayed prominently at the front door. 

Sir James Dowling was the second Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW (30 August 1833 – 27 September 1844). Throughout his judicial career, according to Sir Alfred Stephen, Dowling 'was remarkable not only for the most strict uprightness and impartiality, but for a painstaking and anxious industry rarely equalled. Accessible at all times, a patient listener, careful to ascertain every fact and ready to hear every argument which might be brought to bear on the case before him, he never failed to make himself its master in every detail'. Quite a testimonial for a  parliamentary reporter who was called to the Bar in 1815. It is said that he worked himself to death, a “…victim to scrupulous anxiety and excessive toil in the discharge of his judicial duties”. It is understandable that a law practice would want to name its chambers after this seemingly fine  role model of legal work ethic. 

Far more interesting to our family is the history of this house in the 1950s. This was the home of Frederick  George Simmons  (1896-1987)  and his wife Ora  (approx 1909 - 1975).
They were my husband's  Great Uncle Fred and Great Aunty Ora and my husband, Jim remembers visiting them at 22 Church Street. Jim has clear memories of the kitchen downstairs in this terrace and the strong smell of burning coal gas whenever the kettle was on, which was almost all the time. 
Fred, Jill ( Ora's daughter) and Ora 
Fred served in the  Royal Navy in World War I, enlisting in 1913 and was employed on a number of ships including submarines. He completed service in 1922 and immigrated ( or jumped ship?)  and worked in Western Australia as a railway electrician for about ten years. After moving to Sydney in 1940, he worked in munitions at the Garden Island dockyards and then later as an electrician at Keepit Dam, near Tamworth NSW.
Fred standing far left, and Ora, sitting far right with friends and their family near Tamworth. 
In about 1953, Fred took employment as a wardsman in the Royal Newcastle Hospital. Enter my husband Jim, who as a small child, required an operation on his  left eye at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. Jim's father, Don was Fred's nephew who had immigrated  with his wife Rose and children, Patricia, Christine and Jim (and Susan on the way)  to Australia in 1950. They knew that Fred was living somewhere in Australia, but had not been in touch ... but as fate would determine, Fred just happened to be the wardsman on duty when Jim was in the outpatients department having tests. Fred called for the next patient to be tested,  "Simmons" and then worked out who they were, and that they were in fact close relatives!  Ora, at the time was also working at the hospital as a cleaner. The family enjoyed a reunion and enjoyed a close happy relationship with Fred and Ora  while they were living in the city centre  and after they moved to Cardiff. My own happy memories of visiting Fred and Ora when they were living in Cardiff were of  cups of tea and scones, and my first taste of a gramma pie. I also remember taking home bags of huge lemons which Fred and Ora grew in their garden. Fred even once had his photo published in the local newspaper with one of his prize winning lemons! 
What wonderful times remembered just by taking a walk in Newcastle! 
Frederick George Simmons 

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