Auld Lang Syne

If you are like me, you have probably been singing Auld Lang Syne at Hogmanay all you life and still don’t know the meaning of the terms. Well, this year I have resorted to Wiki to enlighten us.

Wikipedia says of Auld Lang Syne:

The Hogmanay (Scots word for the last day of the year) custom of singing Auld Lang Syne has become common in many countries. Auld Lang Syne is a Scots poem by Robert Burns written in 1788 and based on traditional and other earlier sources. It is now common to sing this in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year’s Day, though it is only intended that participants link arms at the beginning of the final verse, co-ordinating with the lines of the song that contain the lyrics to do so. Typically, it is only in Scotland this practice is carried out correctly.

‘And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give me a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,

for auld lang syne.’

However, in all the versions I have ever sung it is really just the first verse and chorus that I know (like nearly every other song in my ‘repertoire’):

Should old acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot

In the days of auld lang syne?

For old lang syne, my dear,

For old lang syne,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet

in the days of auld lang syne.

(repeat chorus amid kissing, hugging, fireworks, drinking and much celebrating).

Robbie Burns
Robbie Burns

For the Scots, the New Year must also be a time for fond remembrance of their motherland. My mother (whose father was a Glaswegian) would have loved to visit Scotland and in later life often chose the heather-clad hills as a subject for her china painting. I can still re-evoke the strong smell of the solvent she used in the painting process. Phyllis and I, spent our honeymoon motoring through Scotland to the Isle of Skye. The heather was brown at that time of the year and there was no intoxicating smell of mum’s china painting solvent, but (before the fog set in) I gathered enough memories of my grandfather’s auld country to love it like he and mum did.

The heather on the hills
The heather on the hills

Oh, incidentally, the song’s Scots title may be translated into standard English as “old long since”, or more idiomatically, “long long ago”, “days gone by” or “old times”. Consequently, “For auld lang syne”, as it appears in the first line of the chorus, might be loosely translated as “for (the sake of) old times”.






Good Kind Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas
Good King Wenceslas

One of my earliest recollections of Christmas is the carol “Good King Wenceslas”. There’s also an image that comes to mind from a school music book of a drawing of the said king looking out from his castle towards a pauper struggling through the snow ‘deep and crisp and even’. Describing snow as ‘deep and crisp and even’ seems to have made a lasting impression on my young mind which had only experienced the heat of an Australian Christmas until that time. The rest of the carol’s lyrics have always been a bit of a mystery to me.

This year, in a fit of (another) pique at the commercialisation of Christmas I thought I’d scrap all those carols extolling the virtues of Santa and Rudolf, and settle for a more traditional tune. “Good King Wenceslas” sprang into view, with its mysteries still waiting to be discovered after a lifetime buried under the deep and crisp and even snow.

Wikipedia came to my rescue:’”Good King Wenceslas” is a popular Christmas carol that tells a story of a Bohemian king going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the day after Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia or Svatý Václav in Czech (907–935). The name Wenceslas is a Latinised version of the modern Czech language “Václav”.

‘In 1853, English hymnwriter John Mason Neale wrote the “Wenceslas” lyrics, in collaboration with his music editor Thomas Helmore, and the carol first appeared in Carols for Christmas-Tide, 1853. Neale’s lyrics were set to the melody of a 13th-century spring carol “Tempus adest floridum” (“The time is near for flowering”) first published in the 1582 Finnish song collection Piae Cantiones.’

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the Feast of Stephen

When the snow lay ’round about

Deep and crisp and even

Brightly shone the moon that night

Though the frost was cruel

When a poor man came in sight

Gath’ring winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me,

If thou know’st it, telling

Yonder peasant, who is he?

Where and what his dwelling?”

“Sire, he lives a good league hence,

Underneath the mountain

Right against the forest fence

By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine

Bring me pine-logs hither

Thou and I shall see him dine

When we bear them thither.”

Page and monarch, forth they went

Forth they went together

Through the rude wind’s wild lament

And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now

And the wind blows stronger

Fails my heart, I know not how

I can go no longer.”

“Mark my footsteps, good my page

Tread thou in them boldly

Thou shall find the winter’s rage

Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s step he trod

Where the snow lay dinted

Heat was in the very sod

Which the Saint had printed

Therefore, Christian men, be sure

Wealth or rank possessing

Ye, who now will bless the poor

Shall yourselves find blessing.

So the carol is more about December 26th (Boxing Day) than Christmas Day where we are urged to give to the poor rather than receive gifts ourselves. Could John Mason Neale, the hymnwriter, have been fed up with the commercialisation of Christmas even in 1853?

Happy Christmas (and Boxing Day) everyone!

George Symons Suits

Any businessman working in Brisbane after 1950 will be familiar with the well-known suit manufacturer George Symons Suits.  It was with a great deal of pleasure then that, as a result of my profile in the Consultants Register in the Professional Historians Association (Queensland) webpage,  I was asked by George’s granddaughter to write the history of the family behind the firm. Because I had been so lacking in the history of my own grandfather (it is limited to just three sentences!) I jumped at the chance, full of admiration for her far sightedness.

George Symons was born to a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church on the tiny island of Kastellorizo in 1895. Because of its strategic position just 2 km off the Turkish coast it straddles the two continents of Asia and Europe and has been controlled by many different countries over the ages. The fact that it has a magnificent, deep-water harbour has made it greatly sought after.

The beautiful harbour at the island of Kastellorizo
The beautiful harbour at the island of Kastellorizo

After WWI the economy of Kastellorizo, like the island itself, was in ruins, and its inhabitants were leaving in droves. George had been living in nearby Alexandria in Egypt where he married and learned the tailoring trade from his brother in law. His initial intention was to migrate to America where his wife’s family were involved in the fur trade. However for whatever reason he missed the boat so it was suggested that he migrate to Australia – the other country of Greek migration. This he did in 1924 and set up a successful tailoring business in the Melbourne’s prestigious Block Arcade in Collins Street. There he employed many of his Greek family and friends until 1950 when, on the advice of one of his brothers, he sold up and came to Queensland, where he bought a bigger factory in Ipswich. After an unsuccessful few years George transferred the business to Brisbane’s CBD – initially to Charlotte Street and then to Elizabeth Street next to the Treasury Hotel.

George was gradually to hand over control of the business to his son, Sim, who was later to be joined by Sim’s son, George, who introduced many advertising ideas for the firm. Most successful was the firm’s sports advertising, where, in 1972 George Symons Suits started giving a suit to the player of the week. Then they sponsored the Brisbane Bears, who later became the Lions and were also involved in other forms of sport. Tony Roche, the legendary tennis player and a relative, was also doing some advertising for the firm but asked for nothing in return.

The opening of the Myer Centre resulted in George Symons Suits moving to addresses South Brisbane, where it was eventually sold.

George Symons Suits employed many thousands of people over its half century of business in Brisbane. If you, the reader, have a story, either as an employee or a customer, please send it on to me. Like all family histories, it will never be finished, but I will be very happy to add your contribution to the saga of George Symons Suits.

Copy of the sign that graced George Symons Suit factory in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane
Copy of the sign that graced George Symons Suit factory in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane

Koopa Memories

Marilyn Carr writes…

When I was six, maybe even younger, my father used to take me down to the lowest deck on the SS “Koopa” to watch the two stokers at work shovelling in the coal; we would also pause further along the passage-way at the half-door which allowed a small child, partly hoisted up by their father, to peer down into the gleaming engine room. The engine was painted red and green; the brass plaque that would have said when and where the S.S. “Koopa” was built truly shone. It must be fifty years since the “Koopa” last sailed across the Bay to Bribie – after stopping at Redcliffe jetty. I can remember a Thursday trip in 1950 or 1951 which would have been close to when it stopped running, but my earliest recollections go back to before its service elsewhere during the Second World War.

However, if I shut my eyes, in my imagination I can curl my hands around the varnished, curved railings still.

'Koopa' at Bribie Jetty 1920s (photo courtesy Ian Hall)
‘Koopa’ at Bribie Jetty 1920s (photo courtesy Ian Hall)

What wonderful stories that “old girl” could have told! May I share a couple of stories that come to mind? First, we were told an enormous groper was supposed to have its home under the shelf just where the “Koopa” berthed at Bribie. Legend had it that once some foolhardy soul did not heed advice and dived into the water off the “Koopa”. He went straight into the jaws of the waiting groper!

There were bottles of oysters that could be purchased by passengers from a little kiosk (which was painted black and sat between the two runways that led out to the wharf) as they returned to the Koopa after their three hours’ stay on Bribie. Three short toots signalled the vessels immediate departure back to Brisbane. Life on Bribie revolved around the arrival and departure four times a week of the “Koopa”. (I think there may also have been some night trips at one time.)

One has to be a little careful here, though the lady of this story was most respected by my family. She still, I believe, would have many relatives around Moreton Bay. The lady grew carnations which she would take to the “Koopa” for them to be sold in Brisbane. She had also been left by her former employer a motor car (possibly one of the very few cars – not trucks – on the island. One needs to think “Model T” now) and driving this car she would automobile (“drive” as a word seems inadequate and there were not really roads anyway) to the jetty all dressed up in flowing white wearing a large hat and carrying her big, big bunch of carnations.

Occasionally, on her return home could one say the warmth of the day would overcome her and she would stop for a little snore!

Just before the final journey of the “Koopa” to Bribie, Bribie’s Lady of the Carnations made her last trip as well. She had passed away and the captain of the “Koopa” had the task of the dispersal of her ashes from the “Koopa”’s deck. Now, I only heard this story but it goes like this: there was a sudden wind change at the critical moment of the dispersal ceremony. Bribie’s Lady of the Carnations did not return immediately to the Bay but to the “Koopa”’s decks! Her spirit furious, that was the end of the “Koopa”!

Marilyn Carr

July 2002

Reference: Peter Ludlow ‘Moreton Bay Letters’

Bullets and Beans

Marilyn Carr writes…

My father would comment that the shock waves from the explosions would lift “Torphins”, our beach house, momentarily off its high Queensland stumps and the windows would rattle, the iron bedsteads groan. There would be the loud, loud clatter of machine guns firing and sundry booms and cracks from high-powered rifles.  “Another practice landing,” my Father might have thought and, as the noises subsided, have calmly pumped up the “primus” to boil water for a very early cup of tea.

That was around 1944, during the Second World War in the Pacific.  The American marines had a large training base at Torbul Point, on the coast of Moreton Bay. There, American troops practised amphibious barge landings.  This was training for the island-hopping strategy to be used to retake the Pacific Islands then held by the Japanese.   The sounds that shook “Torphins” were just rehearsals for what was to be real later in the Solomon Islands and, too, on Iwo Jima.

So, barges filled with armed, invasion-ready marines would churn across the half-mile of Pumistone Passage, their bow-plates would be lowered and out the troops would storm onto the uninhabited northern part of Bribie Island with all guns truly firing. Then, Bribie Island had but few permanent residents and only land-owners with security passes could access the island. My family still went there for school holidays.  The trial invasions were regarded as very necessary and quite accepted.

On occasions troops would be moved around the island’s sandy tracks in trucks with the troops standing up on the tray behind. I have the distinct memory of a convoy passing our house and one of the troops falling off the truck. He picked himself up and ran alongside the truck to jump aboard again.  I watched from the verandah of “Torphins”. Other items seemed to get left behind as well.  Once, I found a well-balanced dagger.  George, a retired circus rouseabout who acted as our caretaker when we were not on Bribie, taught me how to throw it.  I have always regarded a dagger as my weapon of choice!

For their ‘invasions’ the Yankie marines also took along food supplies.  These came in wooden boxes, holding  gold-coloured, squat tins on which, I think, was written two capitals letter ‘Ds’, with between them an arrow.    I had found a full box of such rations close to “Torphins”.  Do know that, for children (and I would have been eight in 1944) chocolate was a nearly unheard of dream. There was food rationing, but not for chocolate. Such sweetness had seemed to have ceased to exist. But I, with my find, had found a cache of chocolate!

The wooden box’s tins had three different contents: some were K rations (which I believe implied emergency food) some contained baked beans and others hash, rather like Australian camp pie – not particularly tempting but I am sure with meat rationed, every tin was used by my family. The K ration tins held chocolate, biscuits and some had cocoa, while some powdered coffee – unheard of in Australia then.  The chocolate in each K rations tin was consumed with relish.

However, the baked beans, heated up on the wood-fired stove, were mouth-wateringly delectable and are, to me, more remembered.  Every-day, so-ordinary baked beans were then quite unobtainable until after the war had ended.  Over seventy years later I still enjoy baked beans served on toast.  Breakfast at a five-star hotel holds a special delight as one spoons a serve of baked beans from a highly-polished silver serving dish onto one’s plate.  The memory of my first taste of baked beans comes back. And, for me, they are deserving of being served out of a silver dish.

One box of army rations discovered must have made my cousins and I decide to search for more after another invasion trial not too far up from “Torphins”.  There was Cousin George, Cousin June and I and it may have been the winter school holidays, in 1944.  Our Grandmother must have been in charge.  We were to keep to the beach – where we could be seen from the house for quite a distance.

We found the invasion spot where the vegetation was trampled, some trees tattered.  There we found another wooden box but this one was deeper and sturdier.  It had been opened.  It did not contain food tins.  Instead, it held machine-gun bullets about six inches long and held into a long chain of metal.  A disappointment, but we decided to take them home.  With George leading, and the bullet chain looped between us, we ambled back along the beach to “Torphins”.

Grandma saw what we were carrying. She was aghast.  Grandma gathered up some oars, made us take the bullets down to the beach and help her push out our rowing boat into the Pumicestone Passage. Into the rowing boat she clambered, fitted in the oars and rowed out to what she thought was the channel. There she dumped our find of machine gun bullets overboard. I do wonder, would over seventy years be enough for them to have disintegrated?

Pebble Beach Memorial, Toorbul Point
Pebble Beach Memorial, Toorbul Point


Marilyn Carr 

November 2016