In my last column I posed the question:
Who was the New Englander who was reported as Chief of Intelligence for Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz and later became one of Australia’s first spies? A clue: he came from Kentucky.
Kate Hedges from Kentucky responded, correctly, with Harry Freame.
I will write later on the full and quite remarkable story of Harry Freame. In the meantime, Kate told me that there is a display in the Kentucky Hall of photos and stories of past Kentuckians including Harry Freame. When you visit Kentucky you can get the key to the Hall and display from the Kentucky store.
Christmas is a very special time for all of us, marked by our own family rituals.
Growing up, Christmas began with a pine branch buried in a pot. Downtown, brother David and I visited Coles and Penneys with our money clutched in our hands to buy presents.
On Christmas Eve people came round to our house for drinks. We had to go to bed, but were allowed to stay up for a while to meet people.
Christmas Day dawns. On our bed is a Santa sack full of presents. We play with these waiting for our parents to wake up. They do, and we get our presents from them.
Mid morning and we go down to Fah and Gran’s, a block away in Mann Street. This was always open house for our grandparents’ friends and electorate workers. The Mackellars who managed Forglen, Fah’s property, were always there with eldest my age. We talk to people and go outside to play.
Once people have gone, we get another set of presents from our grandparents and aunts. Then to Christmas lunch, always a roast chook. We kids sit in a little sun room off the main dining room.
After lunch we play, rolling down the grass slopes. Sometimes there are special events. I remember one Christmas a piper played, striding up and down the lawns at the back of the house.
Later we go up to the Halpins for late afternoon Christmas drinks.
Time passes. I am living in Canberra, joining the great New England diaspora.
Neville Crew’s 1960s’ research showed that for every one person living on the Tablelands there was one Tablelands’ born person living elsewhere. This pattern is replicated across the broader New England, from the lower Hunter to the boarder. As best as I can work out, if we count those born in the broader New England plus their immediate children, we are talking about more than a million people.
By bus, car, plane and train, many of us try to come home, meeting old friends.
The last time I saw Zivan Milanovich was on the train. Zivan’s dad Branco was groundsman at TAS. I knew Branco, but only in a formal sense. By contrast, Zivan and I were in scouts together, 2nd Armidale Troop. We were mates.
I suppose that 2nd Armidale still has a bob a job week equivalent. That year Zivan and I decided to clean shoes in Beardy Street. We stood there, but no one came. Finally we overcame our shyness, started spruking and approaching people. The cash rolled in. I think that we both learned an important lesson, the way in which you have to stand outside yourself to be successful.
Those Christmases were very special times as those dispersed over tens of thousands of miles came together. I cannot do them proper credit in this column, but I remember them well.
To finish with another question. Can you name six feature films connected in some way with New England?
To make things easier for you, I mean from Newcastle to the border. And, yes, Captain Thunderbolt is one. The making of this film is another story I have to tell you from our shared past.
Note to readers
This column appeared in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 31 December 2008