Eighty seven years ago today, the fourth child and the third daughter, Margaret, later to be known as Peg, was born to a young Dorrigo couple, Roy and Biddy (Bridget) Swadling. Roy was working in the saw mill and Biddy was caring for their young family.
Pat was five, Mary, also known as Molly, was three and a half and Betty (Elizabeth), was two. I’m not sure whether Pat had started at the convent at that time, but the rest were at home. In that year, the Great Depression began. I have often wondered just how the family managed, though it was difficult for most in those years. From what my mother told me, they were a happy family, despite Biddy’s indifferent health. Her sister, Molly (also Mary) was a frequent visitor and the two sisters were known for their lovely singing voices and their sense of humour… after all, they were Irish. I was fortunate enough to know Aunt Molly, how I loved her Irish brogue… she was always so kind to us as children and though we didn’t see her often, she filled a little of the role of our Irish grandmother whom we never got to meet.
Mum lost her mother when she just eleven, to TB.
Biddy left her young family just a few weeks short of her 41st birthday. Mum always thought that she, too, would die young – though she lived longer than her mother, passing away at just 51.
One of my favourite photos with Mum. I was about three, carefully examining the appliquéd leaves which were tan, on Mum’s white dress. This was taken in Aunt Mary’s yard. I always thought Mum looked beautiful in that dress.
If I say it quickly, it doesn’t feel like 35 years…but, as hard as it is to believe, it is…35 years since I kissed and held you for the very last time. The last words you spoke to me were “Thank you, Petal..”
Of course, I cried, as I am now… at the memory of losing you. I’d been praying that some miracle would happen and you would be able to stay, just a little longer, but as I sat by your bed, holding your hand, I could feel you leaving me, bit by bit. I was selfish enough to want you to see your grandchildren grow up.. there were three then, now there are five. I wanted you to fulfill your dream of having great grandchildren…
How they would have loved you, your kindness and gentleness, your selflessness, your generosity, your wonderful imagination… your insistence that we always had a fairy tree… as I do also. You have three great grandchildren, one step great grandchild and another great grandchild to be in a few months time. Of course, you just never know, there may be more to come… though I’m sure you know more about that than I do. As for great nieces and nephews, I haven’t even tried to count, let’s just say there are a lot of us..
You’d be so proud of your evergrowing family, they are good people.. and now Dad is with you, I’m sure you are both smiling down at us. Just as you said so many years ago, siblings and cousins are now the generations of the present and the future, sadly some are also of the past, but that is the way it has always been. We do our best to uphold your values and are always grateful for all you sacrificed for us. It’s only now that we have really come to know, or think we do, just how much that was.
It is so strange to realise that I have now had longer without you than with you.. but only your physical presence, as there isn’t a day that goes by, that I don’t think of you or remember something you did or said.
You had been sleeping for so long and my tears flowed freely as your breath became more laboured. You struggled so hard to stay, I knew I had to let you go. “Please Lord, if there is no way she can stay, please let her be at peace with you Lord..” You opened your eyes, just for a moment and smiled.. somehow you knew my silent prayer.
The early mornings were often a little frosty, but that couldn’t stop two excited children from rushing outside to follow the trail. We never questioned why it always started out near the back garden, then went through the gate, past the chook pen and up the hill through the bushes, then looped back again.
Over it went, near the tank stand, then around to the front yard, under the nasturtiums and then back around and into the back door. How come we never noticed that when we ran out the back door?
Seems we had one messy Easter Bunny, shredded paper everywhere and just a few chocolate freckles or mini eggs if we were realy lucky.. and one or two chocolate eggs were left.
Most times, we also got a fluffy little yellow chicken.
We loved the eggs that rattled and were never disappointed whether they contained a few small lollies or, on rare occasions, a tiny toy. Some years, we would get a sugar egg from our Aunt Mary. They were so pretty and fancy and always contained something, usually a few conversation lollies. Dad would eat the ‘egg’, after I ate all the decorations off first. I didn’t really like sugar eggs to eat. My brother loved chocolate eggs and I was always careful to keep count of mine, just in case.
A few days before Easter, we would wait patiently while Mum hard boiled some eggs, and while they were still warm, we would draw patterns on them with a wax candle.
Then Mum would dye them with food colourings,
especially cochineal. Once they dried, we would wipe off the wax and pretty patterns would appear. This is how we hoped they would look…
but more often, they looked more like these,
only with more colours…
The excitement of Easter continued as we would all go out to my grandmother’s for a big family gathering. Lunch was always roast chickens and roast vegetables, sometimes a lamb roast as well. I liked the smell of the garlic and rosemary on the lamb, but I’ve never been too fond of eating it. The centrepiece of the table was Tsourekia (Greek Easter bread), plaited with hard boiled red coloured eggs baked in. Dessert was often fruit pie and baked custard.
Image courtesy of Taste
Surprisingly, after the cleanup and perhaps a short rest for some of the adults, out would come baklava and koulourakia, fragrant preserved figs in their rich cinnamon and honey syrup and rich aromatic Greek coffee, in Nona’s special occasion tiny coffee cups.
It was only then that our Aunts and Uncles might produce some Easter eggs for us children, ‘if we’d been good’. They were very forgiving or we’d always been very good it seemed.
There was much laughter throughout the day and plenty of chatter.
Familes and Easter – they will always sit happily side by side in my memories.
How we miss you, Aunt Mary.. and your selfless caring for all the family, especially your mother.
I miss our long chats, our laughter, and the walking out to Nona’s, sometimes picking wildflowers along the way. I loved calling in to your place after school, even for piano practice.
The hardest part of leaving my home town was leaving you, something I know my parents felt as well. You were my confidante, my go between when I was a teenager railing against my Dad’s strict rules. It was you who taught me to cook all manner of things, and to crochet… wish I’d had more lessons for that.
It was you who stayed with my Dad and younger brother, dropping everything to come interstate to look after your youngest sibling when my mother died. You made sure they ate and rested, the little they could, when all around them was turned upside down.
I know I thanked you for all over time, but it would never be enough. Much love to you, Aunt, I am so grateful that you were with us for as long as you were.
You could say that I really struck it lucky when my parents chose my godfather.. Dad’s oldest brother was one of the gentlest and kindest men I have known. Harry Catsoulis was born 106 years ago today, on the 16th October, 1910, ‘under canvas’ at Whiporie, out from Casino, NSW. He was the eldest of eleven children of Theo Catsoulis and Chrisanthe (Coroneo), nine of whom survived to adulthood.
Peter Tscilas wrote in his book, Lismore Greeks, the following…
Casino has the distinction as the spot chosen by Harry Catsoulis, the son of Theo Harry and Chrysanthi (nee Coroneo), to pop into the world in 1910, probably making him the first Kytherian-Australian on the north coast. Theodore and Chrysanthi Catsoulis were dairy farmers somewhere along Camira Creek, Whiporie, down along the Grafton road.
I have written a little about his birth in Bush Symphony. The young family stayed on the land for a while before moving to Bellingen where his father, Theo, was to take over a cafe initially in partnership with his cousin, Michael Catsoulis. When Michael went to fight in the Balkan War, Theo took over the cafe, however the call of the land was too strong.
After several years, they then moved to Aberdeen, NSW, where they grew small crops. before moving to Urunga in 1927. The family now had nine children, with one still birth and one son passing as an infant of just 13 months. He rests in Scone Cemetery.
Harry, who was then 17, helped clear the land in Urunga and also helped his father to build the house.Together with his father and brothers, Harry farmed for almost 30 years.
My early memories of Uncle Harry centre around music. Nothing could cause more excitement than his old wind up gramaphone which had a large horn and played cylinders. He delighted entertaining the family back in those early years at my grandparent’s house as much as in the later ones.
Harry had a great love of family, and never missed a family gathering.
Siblings, Mary Walsh (nee Catsoulis) and Harry Me and my proud godfather
He also loved travel and spoke often of his favourite trip, that to Hawaii. From his very first holiday there, he fell in love with Hawaiian shirts and they were part of his wardrobe at many family gatherings.
He also loved his cars, from his early Anglia to his last one, a Cadillac, which still belongs to the family.
Though Uncle Harry never married, he was the very proud godfather of both my children as well as me. I can still see his shy smile when we asked him if he would do us the honour, first with our son, then with our daughter. He spoilt them as he had done me, not with a lot of things, but with just a few special items.
It was Uncle Harry who gave me my first watch when I was 13 years old. He also gave me my first ‘grown up’ necklace around the same age, though that was not without a small drama. He and Dad were always playing tricks on us, a Catsoulis trait. So it was with slightly more than a little hesitation that I refused to turn around and close my eyes when Dad said Uncle Harry had something for me. I’d been caught before, the last time was a frog down my back. They were both insistent, I was too, but in a negative way, however eventually they persuaded me… and then I felt so embarrassed, as my godfather placed a beautiful necklace around my neck. Even though it was too old for me at the time, I did appreciate it and felt very upset for not trusting them. That didn’t last long, Uncle Harry yelled ‘catch’ a little while later and I caught.. a slimy fish tail.
Harry was always adding to his stereo equipment and delighted in showing off his latest acquisition. My husband and he would spend hours talking about music, playing new records and going through whatever the latest ‘new’ thing was that was becoming available.
My godfather was a very kind and loving person, always a hard worker and always welcoming. In later years, his brother, Con, lived with him. You never left that place without armfuls of produce, often plants and flowers as well. Uncle Harry always loved red roses, and either he would share some of his with me, or I would take some of mine to him. When he died on the 18th November, 1989, I knew what I wanted to do.
After his funeral, I went back to the cemetery and covered his grave with red roses and rosepetals..it was the least I could do.
He rests in Mt. Gravatt Lawn Cemetery, along with his brother, Con, with whom he shared a home for many years. It is only fitting that they share their last resting place.
Postscript: I chose the title because it was an oft used saying within the family, somehow it just seemed the right choice. To my much loved godfather, Uncle Harry, you are never far from my thoughts… especially today, on what would have been your 106th birthday.
David Catsoulis was born on 10th October, 1917, at home, in Aberdeen, NSW. He was the 6th child and 4th son to Theodore Haralambos Catsoulis and ( Chrisanthe ), both from Potamos, Kythera, Greece. The family moved to Urunga in 1927. Dave, by then a 10 year old, was known to love fishing with his father and siblings. It was very convenient that their property was just across the road from what was then called a lake, now a lagoon. I have also been told that he was a crack shot with an air rifle, adding the occasional duck or rabbit to the family dinner table.
As with most farming families, the boys helped with many chores around the farm, learning the value of planting to the seasons at a very young age.
My memories of my Uncle Dave are of a kind and generous and very tall man, like my father, with a ready smile. One time that always comes to mind is of him being at my Mother’s 21st, how we all crowded into that tiny place, I’ve no idea. As young as I was, I can ‘see’ him coming in the door with a huge smile and a large bunch of flowers. Strangely enough, they were very much like the flowers my grandmother had in her garden.
It was Uncle Dave who always managed to drop the last watermelon when we were all at the farm loading them. Of course, there was no sense in wasting it. He was also the Uncle who sometimes had a couple of small white paper bags filled with lollies in his pocket for two very appreciative young children, a rare treat. As much as I loved seeing him then, a few years earlier I wasn’t too keen, when he and my grandfather decided it would be a good idea to pierce my ears. My horrified screams brought my Mother running, just as they were heating the needle. It would have been their ears burning for some time after my Mum had finished with them.
When we first moved interstate, we stayed with Uncle Dave and Uncle Harry, who were then running the Oxley Hotel. I loved it, the history… it had been built around 1895 and had been a Cobb & Co stop, and the space. I was so excited by the high ceilings, the huge room which had been a dining room for weary travellers, but then housed only a piano and a few chairs, with one small table.. and of course, the beautiful timber throughout. The staircase was wonderful and was highly polished as was the bar. We children thought we were very grand sitting on a high stool at the bar, once it was closed, cleaned and polished, having a sarsaparilla. We were sometimes even treated to a small pack of Eta salted peanuts..nothing ever matched those.
The new hotel, built around the late 60’s ( and since replaced yet again) was all bricks and tiles and lacked the character of the old. I even missed the downward sloping verandahs from the old hotel, which were made even scarier to walk on by the tales told by Uncle Dave of children slipping off. There was no other access to the rooms we were staying in, so we had to use them, though we did stay very close to the wall.
Our much loved Uncle Dave gave us another Aunt, Thea, when they married in 1960..in the Greek Orthodox Church, West End. My brother and I got to hold the candles, a great honour which gave us a front row seat to their beautiful wedding. Their three sons were added to our great collection of cousins..
I have turned just a small number of pages in Uncle Dave’s Book of Life.. Uncle Dave left us on the 13th July, 2005.
On this, which would have been his 99th birthday, I remember him fondly as a warm and welcoming family man, very much missed by many…not a bad epitaph for any man.
Aunt Thea & Uncle Dave
Dave is the tall boy with tilted head, second from the right
Five of the brothers together ..Sim, Dave, Harry, Vince, Con
Cousins.. Dave Catsoulis, David Catsoulis and his brother Charles..
Siblings Harry, Dave, Sim, Vince, Mary in soft blue and Nita..
N.B. As these photos show in random, the captions will be out of order at times.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in what we called a family of many nations..
My father’s parents were Greek born, having emigrated from Potamos, Kythera, a small island near the southern tip of Greece. My mother’s mother was from Co Clare, Ireland, yet both my parents were born in Australia. I inherited the light olive skin and dark hair from the Greek side I was told, but the reddish tinge ‘definitely came from the Irish’ according to my Irish Great Uncle Martin and his sister, Great Aunt Molly(Mary).
I have always had a fascination for other cultures.. part of my incessant need to keep learning. I never did learn much Greek, my father didn’t think it necessary as we were Australian, though he spoke fluent Greek. The few words I did learn were from Papauli and Dad’s sister, Mary. It’s not that I didn’t want to… and I can understand a little more than I can speak, which still amounts to very little.
You can imagine how excited I was when my Uncle Sim, Dad’s brother, arrived back from a trip to Greece with a lovely Greek bride, Koula. Here was my opportunity… They were married in Greece on Dec 26, 1960. Koula had left her family behind for a new life in our far off land. She had been born on Aitoliko, a tiny island, on Sep 17, 1926… her full name was Vasiliki Vissios, but we all called her Koula…. Yes, she would have been 90 today… I can’t imagine her as that old…
I still see her as that new bride, who spoke virtually no English , but was so keen to learn. They lived with us for a time when they first arrived and she and my Mum became great friends, despite the language difficulties.
I wanted to be able to help her to learn English and to learn more Greek in the process, so several afternoons a week, I would come from school, then take Aunt on the bus to our nearest shopping centre and we would spend an hour or so, wandering through the shops, pointing at different items .. Aunt Koula would tell me the Greek name and I would tell her the English. I think we spent most of that time laughing at each other’s attempts, but we did learn a little from each other, and she got out of the house for a bit also.
I wish you could know that you are still very fondly thought of.. and you held your own special place in our hearts. For me, you were my real Greek Aunt. I loved the way you loved us… the friendship you formed with my Mum and my Aunt Heather in particular. I saw your heart breaking when Mum died and you said how much you would always miss Peggy..You are now with them and your much missed family again..having left us on 16 December, 2012. I was privileged to spend some of your last hours with you, your son Theo and your daughter, Chriss… who will love you forever.
These images that follow portray just a little of your life… however they don’t show your sense of humour, your ability to make a joke at the most unexpected times and laugh in the face of adversity..nor do they cover your love of family, your love of dance and the kindness you shared..