My mind has always ranged back into the past. I have never stopped to wonder about this inclination or why it happens. I just seem to continually bring up associations of the present with past people and events, particularly with family and friends in sad or happy circumstances. My life-long best mate, Pete, also indulges in long reveries, especially about his childhood. I suppose he has more reason than most. He was a rubella baby. The problems with his eyes developed until he had lost his sight by the age of 21 years. Because his visual memory stopped in 1976, his reflections are to some extent dominated by that early period.
One of my sisters, Marie, also has a keen memory and needs little encouragement to reminisce about family occasions. Indeed, she has been of immeasurable assistance in the preparation for my family history series. She has a lucid memory of those things I think girls are more likely to notice than boys. She, as the first grandchild and a girl into the bargain, was my grandmother’s ( my mother’s mother) favourite and spent much time with her. She has been able to tell me a lot about my grandmother – her ways and her brittle temperament- that almost completely escaped me at the time. My other four siblings, in contrast, have little inclination to look back and thus have a fragmented memory of the years gone by. They appear to cast their minds back only when we get together and Marie and I begin reminiscing.
When I began my preparation in earnest for my family history series, I came to see that not everyone was in the habit of looking into the past. Indeed, it is a habit more than the occasional act of looking back. One’s mind is always in a way connected to the past. One’s consciousness is a panorama of one’s complete life. That is in contrast with someone whose mind is rooted in the present with an eye on the future. But with some, I have discovered, there is more than an unconscious barrier to looking back.
There are two negative reactions I sometimes come across to my ‘constant’ talk about the past. The first is an impatience that I live in the past whereas the healthy mind lives in the present and plans for the future. That, of course, is misconceiving the inclination. The second, much less often, is a suspicion that there is some sort of ulterior motive behind bringing past connections or past events. One person told me that ‘the past is a foreign country’. In other words, don’t go there. At the time I blissfully missed the point. When the warning became explicit, I did not have to be told again.
It just goes to show there are pitfalls in assuming that people think the same way as you, even about matters that seem innocent enough. Of course, that does not at all discourage me from indulging in long and frequent reminiscences. That’s what my family series is all about – reflecting on the good and bad of one’s life. There are lessons to be learned – apart from enjoying the pleasure of some memories.
At last I have got around to posting photos of some of my ancestors of the 1800s. I wish I had more but I realise I have to be happy with the number preserved in the family – particularly the studio portrait of James Joseph Wilson taken in the last years of his life. One can hardly believe that the distinguished gentleman of the portrait was a convict thrice convicted of larceny and dispatched to the NSW Colony for life.
The photos of John McGroder and his sister Kate, children of the illiterate convict couple Bryan and Elizabeth McGroder, are just as astonishing for the picture of culture and distinction they project. How does one explain the development? Whatever the social influences of the society John and Kate lived in, and the chances Bryan and Elizabeth had to start anew, the home influence must have played a crucial role. It is a credit to Bryan and Elizabeth McGroder that they turned out so well. The story of Bryan McGroder’s life in the Colony showed he possessed an innate decency.
I have made contact through ancestry.com with several members of my extended family. Mike Chapman who lives in Canada is a fifth cousin through my mother’s line. After reading my family history book he posted the following five star review on the kobo website:
A Personal History of Australia
I found Gerard Wilson’s book a fascinating introduction to the development of Australia as a nation and the people responsible for its success. His research into his personal ancestry provides the reader with an insight into the lives of ordinary men and women who first settled the Australian continent. Many of them were petty criminals, (thieves, pickpockets, prostitutes) in British cities that were arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to ‘transportation’ by the courts. Some were even sentenced to death (for theft in those days) but had their sentence commuted to transportation. Others were the officers and crew in the “First Fleet” of 11 ships that undertook the hazardous voyage in 1788 to Australia and of the convict ships that followed. It is remarkable that so many men and women banished from their homeland because of criminal convictions became hard-working, successful farmers and well respected citizens in the new land.
Mike Chapman, Canada
I sent a copy of Prison Hulk to Redemption: Part One of a Family History 1788-1900 to the Hon. Robert Clark Liberal Member for Box Hill and Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations in the Victorian State Parliament because of his interest in Edmund Burke. My book is a Burkean examination of cultural continuity and identity. The shadow minister had written a favourable review of Jesse Norman’s excellent book on Edmund Burke – Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician and Prophet. He replied with this comment:
‘I’ve enjoyed reading the concluding chapter of the book and your Burkean assessment of Australia’s institutional inheritance from Britain. I particularly enjoyed your assessment and critique of those Australian historians and commentators who seem to have a desire to belittle the British aspects of our heritage, whether that be from a teenager lack of confidence or (which may be a more complex version of the same phenomenon) from a socialist desire to tear down existing institutions.’
Ancestry.com, one of the best known websites for family history research, offers to reveal your ancestry by testing your DNA. I received one of their DNA kits as a present. I followed the simple instructions and sent in my sample. Today I received the results. It contained no real surprise. It was in line with the results of the research for my family tree. Here’s the breakdown of where I came from:
ETHNICITY FOR GERARD CHARLES WILSON
63% Great Britain
9% Europe West
10% Trace regions (negligible trace elements of different regions)
It is amusing that today’s native Briton has an average of 60% British DNA while I, all the way across the other side of the world with ancestors going back to the First Fleet, have a higher content than average.