On New Years day 1886, George Beresford King died.
It must have been a traumatic experience for my grandmother [Emma Letitia King nee Chatfield], who, at the age of 41 was suddenly deprived of her husbands support and responsible for the upbringing of seven children ranging in age from a few months to seventeen years. My mother [Una Beresford Moodie nee King] was only eight years old at the time. How grandmother managed I do not know. She came to Sydney and the family lived in various suburbs, including Parramatta and Granville. Mother used to say that Grannie never took a holiday but when she needed a change of scene she simply moved house. In those days houses for rental were in plentiful supply and rentals were low. The same situation obtained later during the depression years and I recall that my father, unable to sell our large house in Adelaide when we moved to Ballarat in 1932, rented it to the manager of a well-known insurance company for 35 shillings per week. He was an excellent tenant!
Of the children, Emma married Charles Hall who was a grazier in the far west of New South Wales; Una (my mother) married Robert Moodie; Ella and Eva both died when they were quite young; George, Lucy and Ida did not marry.
I have quite clear recollections of my grandmother when I was a young boy; she seemed very old and was invariably dressed in black. In fact, she was about 70 years of age, younger than I am now. At that time she was living at Leura in the Blue Mountains with Aunt Lucy, Aunt Ida and Brenda, the daughter of William and Bella King who both died when comparatively young, leaving Brenda an orphan. Aunt Lucy virtually adopted Brenda and brought her up as her own daughter. Brenda had a lively personality and was a talented singer and pianist. I enjoyed her company very much. My brother and I sometimes stayed at "Rhyana", as the Leura house was called. Grannie and the aunts were extremely kind to us. There was no gas or electricity and water was supplied by three large tanks alongside the house. At night a variety of oil lamps would be lit. My grandmother never wavered in her preference for the old wick lamp with the yellow flame, glass chimney and reflector. She claimed that it was kind to the eyes. I always thought of Grannie as "The Lady with the Lamp", owing to her habit of walking around the house after dark with a lighted lamp in her hand. She did this even in later years at places where gas and electricity were available.
My grandmother used to rest quite a lot during the day but she was surprisingly active. Leura at that time was sparsely populated and there was a great deal of unspoilt bush. I can remember long walks with her to local beauty spots such as "Fairy Dell" and "Lyre-birds Dell".She never seemed to tire. Mother said that in her own earlier days she was made to walk too much; she certainly didn't have the same enthusiasm for walking as Grannie. Later on, however, when I was old enough to go to "Shore", it never seemed to occur to either Dad or Mother that it was a very long walk for a small boy to undertake every day, rain or shine. They never suggested that I might use the tram!
Grannie seemed to rather enjoy the concept of being old and used to talk about it quite a lot. She was a deeply religious woman, and, for many years, family prayers before breakfast were the order of the day.At "Rhyana" on Sundays my brother and I were given the choice of going to church with the Aunts and Brenda or reading the Bible with Grannie at home; we always chose the latter. Actually Grannie made the Bible quite interesting and was very well informed on its contents. She disliked change and, in fact, resisted it. It was only with difficulty that she could be persuaded to ride in a motor car - and she stuck to her oil lamps.
During the influenza epidemic in 1919 my family had cause to be grateful to Grannie. The disease played havoc in the community, hospitals and medical profession being taxed beyond capacity. One day I was bewildered to find my father ill and unable to go to work - I had never known him to be ill before. After that, the whole family went down, one by one. I have no very clear recollection of what happened for a few days after I contracted the virus but I have a mental picture of a small figure in black moving quietly about the house attending to the needs of the stricken family. Behind the scenes our faithful retainer, Mrs. Bolton, who came once a week to do the washing, was active with the household chores. My father always said that these two devoted women saved the day; outside help was virtually unprocurable, hospitals were full, and almost every family had its own problems. There was, indeed, sickness in Grannie's own home.
A number of years ago Keith Dunstan wrote a humorous article in the Melbourne "Sun" entitled "The Auntie Hilton". He was looking back to the days when there were always unmarried aunts available to provide a change of scene for youngsters during school holidays and in the later years when they were grown up and had children of their own. This situation is exemplified by my two remarkable aunts, Lucy and Ida King, who carried on a tradition a=established by my grandmother when Aunt Emmie and her young family used to come down from the country to stay with the family in Sydney.
"Staying with the Aunts" meant different things at different times. The Hall family would no doubt have been accommodated in early days at Parramatta or Granville. In my very young days it was Leura. For a brief period during the war they lived at Wollstonecraft but when my young cousin Arthur Hall returned from the war with a Victoria Cross in 1919 it was at Neutral Bay that he received a "Welcome Home"; immediately after that it was "Kia-Ora", Lane Cove Road, Gordon. I was on a visit from Adelaide when they inspected what was to be their permanent home for many years - "Currawinya", 27 Powell St, Killara.
At about that time Mother's brother George came down from Queensland where he had been working on a station property in Cunnamulla and he, Grannie and the Aunts decided to pool their resources and buy "Currawinya" which was on the market at what was probably quite a cheap price. The sale was completed and the family took up residence. The house was large with fairly extensive grounds. It was built on a slope which meant that accommodation was available on two levels. Upstairs were three bedrooms, drawing room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom. Downstairs there were no less than four bedrooms with somewhat limited shower and toilet facilities. Unfortunately the house was below the level of the road and some of the downstairs rooms were quite damp. Grannie died in 1927 and Uncle George in 1939. The aunts stayed there until Aunt Lucy's death in 1959. The house, however, remained in the family for some years as it was bought by my cousin Neville Chatfield who lived there with his daughter Judith.
Life with the aunts was never dull. They both had a great zest for life and were extremely popular with the younger generation with whom they could always identify, though in Aunt Lucy's case, preserving a pretty conservative attitude. They were ready to talk on almost any subject and were a mine of information on family matters.Their generosity was a by-word and they were extraordinarily appreciative of anything that was done for them. Aunt Ida, at age 35, was an extremely good-looking woman. I remember her well at that age because she came with us to help Mother at the time of the family's move from Sydney to Adelaide in 1920. After that, she looked after us on several occasions when Dad and Mother were away. Aunt Ida never married but she certainly had admirers. One, in particular, gave her some valuable presents. She was a little in advance of her time as she enjoyed the occasional cigarette (but not in public) and was very interested in business matters. She was also keen on photography although I can't say that her results were particularly good. Aunt Lucy was an entirely different person. She was ten years older than Aunt Ida and throughout her life something of an invalid although this did not affect her activities when she was well. She was utterly devoted to her niece Brenda, whom she brought up from a very early age. When Brenda died suddenly and tragically in the early years of the war at the age of 38 both aunts immediately assumed responsibility for her three young children. Her husband (Major K.D. Chalmers) was away at the war at the time and the aunts were living in Lawson in the Blue Mountains. They looked after the children until Major Chalmers re-married and was able to establish his own home.
I have many memories of life at Currawinya where one was always welcome and likely to meet other relatives and friends of the family. The kitchen was invariably disorganized but the Aunts contrived to produce rather good meals. When Grannie was alive there was no liquor in the house, apart from a few bottles of whisky which Uncle George kept in his bedroom. There was also a bottle of brandy "for medicinal purposes". Aunt Lucy was prone to fainting fits and the brandy was a suitable reviver! After Grannie died I can remember Uncle George and the aunts enjoyed a glass of red burgundy at dinner time. Later on, the aunts had quite a good cellar established downstairs, which I would always augment on my visits to them.
For about thirty years the aunts carried on their remarkable "Auntie Hilton" at Currawinya and the recipients of their hospitality will never forget them. They took a keen interest in what the younger relatives were doing and obviously derived a vicarious pleasure from their enjoyment. I always remember the number of plans they used to make for me. If you had a motor car with you, you were pretty popular as the aunts just loved motoring. Aunt Ida, actually, was quite a good navigator, and I enjoyed my motoring trips with them.here was not so much traffic about in those days.
During Aunt Lucy's final illness Aunt Ida looked after her with the utmost care and devotion but it took its toll of her own health. She was never quite the same afterwards as I recall from my visits to the unit which she had bought on Pacific Highway, Killara. She herself died in 1966 and I went to Sydney for her funeral service. It was my last visit to Currawinya, which by then was occupied by my cousin the late Neville Chatfield and his daughter Judith, It has since been sold and another family link with the past has gone.