Thursday, February 18, 2010

This Corner of the Earth . . .

. . . is like me in many ways.
I can sit for hours here
and watch the emerald feathers play.
On the face of it I’m blessed
when the sunlight comes for free.

I know this corner of the earth it smiles at me.

“Corner of the Earth”

I must admit it feels somewhat strange to be back in Minnesota and writing about my recent sojourn in Australia - not least because the climate of the two places couldn’t be more different! I was made keenly aware of this earlier today as I cautiously navigated my way around large piles of snow and sidewalks of treacherous ice while helping my friend Ken deliver meals-on-wheels in South Minneapolis.

Still, I have at least two posts I didn’t get around to publishing while in the Great South Land, simply because I ran out of time to do so before returning to the U.S. What you’re reading now is the first of these posts. It documents the February 5-7 trip that my parents and I made to Gunnedah - the town in north-western New South Wales where I was born and raised.

I lived in Gunnedah for almost twenty years – from my birth in 1965 to my leaving for college in 1984. I studied first in Armidale (a three-hour drive north-east from Gunnedah) and then in Canberra (an eight-hour drive south). Throughout my college years and my six years of teaching in Goulburn, I would regularly return to my parents’ home in Gunnedah during college breaks, at Christmas, and for at least part of every school holidays.

Since my relocation to the U.S. in 1994, and my parents’ retirement to Port Macquarie in 2002, I don’t often get to visit Gunnedah and my relatives and friends who still live there. My recent weekend visit to Gunnedah with my parents was, therefore, something I greatly looked forward to and enjoyed.

Gunnedah and the surrounding areas were originally inhabited by indigenous Australians who spoke the Kamilaroi (Gamilaraay) language. The area now occupied by the town was settled by Europeans in 1833. Through my maternal grandmother’s family, the Millerds, my family can trace its connection to Gunnedah back to the town’s earliest days. For more about the town’s history and my family’s connection to it, see the previous Wild Reed post, My “Bone Country”.

So what’s my hometown and its surrounding area like? Well, the Gunnedah Shire is situated 264 metres (870 ft) above sea level on the Liverpool Plains in the Namoi River valley. It’s very flat - the tallest hills are 400 to 500 metres (1,300 to 1,600 ft) above sea level. The climate is hot in summer, mild in winter - and dry, although rainstorms in catchment areas occasionally cause flooding of the Namoi River. Major floods often cut transport links to the town, briefly isolating it from the outside world. These floods were a regular part of my mother’s childhood, as she grew up in a little house in the poorer area of town, situated on the river’s flood plain. Her parents Valentine and Olive Sparkes lived in this same house until their deaths (in 1971 and 1997 respectively). I can remember helping Nanna Sparkes clean up after a flood in 1984.

Above: My Mum (center) with her two sisters Fay (left) and Ruth (right)
- Saturday, February 6, 2010. Both my aunts live in Gunnedah, as does
their brother (my Uncle Michael) and a number of their children.

Above: My Mum with her younger sister Ruth,
photographed sometime in the early 1940s.

Above: One of my cousins who resides in Gunnedah is Greg,
the youngest child of my Aunt Ruth and her late husband Rex.

Okay, here’s another bit of info you might find of interest: The Gunnedah area is noted for its abundance of native wildlife, including kangaroos, echidnas, koalas, and a wide variety of birds.

Koalas can often be found in trees within the town, as well as in the surrounding countryside. As a result, Gunnedah is billed the “Koala Capital”!

Above: Gunnedah’s main street - Conadilly Street.
No koalas in these trees, however!

Above: The Convent of Mercy, Gunnedah - Saturday, February 6, 2010.

For more about our visit with the Gunnedah Sisters of Mercy, click

A highlight of my time spent recently in Gunnedah was reconnecting with a number of high school friends. In the picture above I’m seated with my primary and high school friend David Callaghan and his wife Tracy.

David and I started kindergarten together in 1971 at
St. Xavier’s Primary School. Years later we attended the high school across the street, St. Mary’s College, located next to the Convent of Mercy. Both St. Xavier’s and St. Mary’s were founded by the Sisters of Mercy.

For our kindergarten class photo, click here.

So what did we do as young lads growing up in Gunnedah? Well, in summer we’d sometimes spend time at the Namoi River - doing crazy shit like piling onto a knotted rope, swinging out high over the brown waters of the river, and, one-by-one, letting go and falling in!

That’s David at right in the picture above. That’s our friend Robert “Spud” Buttenshaw at left, and falling into the water in the picture below.

As well as catching up with David when recently in Gunnedah, I was also very happy to reconnect with school friends Lisa Hagley and Sue McCann, pictured with me above.

Sue also started school with me in kindergarten. In the picture below she’s at right in the front row. This particular photo was taken in December 1981 on the last day of Year 10 at St. Mary’s College. If I recall correctly, the theme of that day’s dance party (or "social," as we called them) was “Bad Taste.”

I guess I thought big dark sunglasses were “bad taste,” as that’s what I sported that day!

Pictured from left in the photo above: John Laird, Dennis Groth, me, Anthony Gigli, Bernard Gleeson, Michael Gimbert, and Anthony Egan.

Yes, I know: I look like a Year 7 kid hanging out with the “big boys.” I guess I was what you’d call a “late bloomer”!

Above: Another old photo from my days at St. Mary’s. From left: Katie Murphy, Anthony Egan, John Laird, Michael Gimbert, Bernard Gleeson, Chris Gaynor, and Karen Boughton.

This photo was also taken in 1981 on the last day of Year 10. On such days we were allowed to wear “casual” clothes rather than our school uniform.

Above: Reconnecting with Gunnedah friends Joanne Kelly, Louise Edwards, and Lisa Hagley - Sunday, February 7, 2010.

Left: Lisa and another friend, Michelle Groth, at my 16th birthday party in October 1981.

Above: Another photo from my 16th birthday party. From left: Lisa Hagley, Carmello, Joanne Kelly, Joanne Janseen, Mark Tierney, Joy Ducrow, Michelle Groth, and Polly Hockings.

Above: Just before leaving Australia to live in the U.S., I had a gathering of friends at my parents’ home in Gunnedah in January 1994. From left: Julie Donaldson, Michelle Groth, me, David Callaghan, and Joanne Kelly.

Growing up in Gunnedah, my family lived next door to John and Heather Sills and their three children, who were the same age as my brothers and I. When recently in Gunnedah, my parents and I had dinner with John and Heather - and another family friend, Joyce McAndrew.

From left in the image above: John, Heather, Joyce, Mum, and Dad.

Above: A photo from 1982 showing (from left) Jenny (John and Heather’s eldest daughter), John, Dad, my younger brother Tim, Mum, and Heather.

Above: Pictured at left with (from left) Gwen Riordan, Mum, Judy Keating, and Wendy and Gary Tunbridge - Sunday, February 7, 2010.

Above: Our good friend Gwen Riordan with her sister Barbara Weston (left) and daughters (from left) Diane, Wendy, and Denise. This photo was actually taken during my last visit to Gunnedah in 2009.

Gwen and her late husband Ray owned a property, “Fairview,” in the Kelvin district, north-east of Gunnedah. I have many happy memories of spending time as a child with the Riordan family on their farm - playing tennis, riding mini-bikes with my brothers, and hiking through the nearby Kelvin Hills (see image at the top of this post).

Above: Wendy and Gary.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
My “Bone Country”
A Visit from the Hometown Relatives
An Afternoon at the Gunnedah Convent of Mercy
Gunnedah (Part I)
Gunnedah (Part II)
Gunnedah (Part III)
Gunnedah (Part IV)
The White Rooster

Photography: Michael Bayly.
Artwork: From William T. Cooper’s Cockatoos Portfolio.


Mareczku said...

Very heartwarming and wonderful, Michael. I am lonesome for Australia and I haven't even been there. LOL Hope that you are getting readjusted to our northern climes. Peace & Blessings to you.

Brian R said...

I am interested Michael in how your kindergarten friends accept you now. I guess you are obviously 'out'. While I am older, nearer to your parents in age and grew up in the suburbs of Sydney, I find it difficult when meeting friends from so long ago. My best friend from primary school days contacted me by phone after more than 40 years and kept asking why I had never married. I am afraid I chickened out and just said I was not the marrying type. He never renewed the brief contact although he had rung many people in the phone book searching for me.
From what I know of country towns in NSW I am curious as to how you are accepted.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for your question and for sharing so honestly aspects of your own journey. I've been thinking about all you wrote and will respond either here or in a separate post shortly.



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

Yes, Australia certainly in a uniquely beautiful place. I feel very fortunate to be able to call it home. I'm slowly getting readjusted to the climate of my other home of Minnesota! But it's taking time. Thankfully, the worst of the winter has passed.

Peace and blessings to you too, my friend.


Alan and Judy said...

Hello, my name is Judy Cushway, I came across you blog by googling some Australian towns. I lived near a Gary Tunbridge in Sydney when I was young and I believe he moved to Gunnadah wjth his family. He had a brother Alan and I think 2 sisters. I was wondering if the Gary in your blog was the same person. I now live in Adelaide with my husband and family. I was Judy Kerr and lived in Purchase Road.