‘The history of a Carrum family’ is a valuable asset added to local history.

author Jillian Bailey with me, November 2020

This is another post long overdue, and I apologise to friend and author, Jillian Bailey for not celebrating the publication of her wonderful family history before now, but I imagine I’m not the only blogger attempting catch-up after a horror of a year because of the global pandemic whirling a chaotic world close to home.

The above picture from November last year when we received from the printer, in Jillian’s words, ‘the labour of love’ that is The history of a Carrum family. The actual publication followed months of meetings held between lockdowns, copious emails, phone calls, text messages and usb drops in each other’s mailbox to finalise the contents, but as Jillian states in the Acknowledgements, the writing was in ‘progress over the past fifteen years…’

The book has pages of photographs and scanned documents. Many are family photos but there is a 1950s school photo from Carrum Primary as well as photographs of public events and locales. It is usually the inclusion of these photographs and historical descriptions of an area that moves a family history from being important to a select few to interesting for a wider audience. (The Facebook groups focusing on local areas have thousands of members and inevitably the posters who share old photos and memories receive the highest number of likes and responses.)

The process of which images to include became the subject of many discussions and hard decisions because as is the case with most family histories the cost of ‘the labour of love’ is borne by the researcher/writer!

Over the years and even in the months close to finalisation, family members gave feedback on the manuscript and some decided to submit or change a contribution. Writing a family history is not for the fainthearted or impatient.

Jillian initially began her journey into family history to honour her parents and record their legacy and keeping that as the focus helped decide what images and text to include and gave her definite parameters and a beginning and end. The book is a history of her family establishing a home in Melbourne’s bayside suburb of Carrum at the end of WW2, and the house built by her father features on the front cover; a photograph of her smiling parents, Jack and Doreen, brightens the back cover.

Jillian’s parents both lived into their nineties, Jack (95) and Doreen(98) and as their carer for many years Jillian took the opportunity to listen to their stories, ask questions, and record their memories with the aim of passing on the history to children, grandchildren, great grandchildren – a permanent legacy.

By taking the time to reflect and document the stories about the family’s history, Jack and Doreen’s life experiences, opportunities and challenges, the joys and sorrows, Jillian has captured her parents’ values and wisdom and their keen sense of humour. The book also provides an opportunity for the reader to learn what it was like growing up in Carrum of the 1950s at a time when the infrastructure and technology we know today, didn’t exist.

We may listen to stories told by parents and grandparents but until someone takes the time to record and write down these stories, the anecdotes and information remain fragmented memories, easily distorted and often accompanied by a bundle of photographs of people with no name or context.

Family histories are important historical documents, they can contain information and photographs more relevant to ordinary folk, who make up the majority, than stories of royalty and celebrities because the majority of people are not affluent, their fifteen minutes of fame if it happens is localised. It is ordinary working people who produce the families that make suburbs grow, who establish the clubs and special interest groups, and the need for parks, schools, libraries and bus routes!

At some time in our lives, most of us are curious about ancestors and where we are from, and the growing popularity of Ancestry.com and TV shows like Who Do You Think You Are plus people paying for DNA testing is significant.

Collating a family tree is important, but families are more than a list of birth and death dates. Stories add flesh and depth to an abstract list of names. The Family Tree in Jillian’s history prepared by a genealogist friend, begins with her grandparents. Jillian’s mother was an only child, but her father was one of six children, so the Bailey family tree has plenty of foliage!

There are interesting inclusions in the book that you don’t necessarily find in other family histories such as colourful Heraldic pics certifying the origins of the maternal grandparents’ name, Watson (meaning son of Walter and dating to thirteenth century) and paternal grandparents’ name, Bailey (or Bailiff – man of great importance, fourteenth century).

Plus closeups of Certificates of Sale of the Highland Titles of Lord and Lady of Glencoe and a small plot of land in a nature reserve, in the Parish of Lismore in Scotland. The titles bought for Doreen and Jack on their 70th Wedding Anniversary. This gift from the family and subsequent ‘knighting’ at the party a great example of the Bailey family sense of humour and fun. In Jillian’s words:

“The family always got together for special birthdays and anniversaries, we loved the thought of a get-together; any good excuse for a party. We had great family parties, Mum at the piano hitting the keys beautifully; our singing not so beautiful, but with gusto and enjoyment...

Mum and Dad’s 70th Wedding Anniversary was extra special. About ninety family and friends came from everywhere to celebrate with them. Joan, who was the flower girl for their wedding in April 1942, came with her husband Alan. It was lovely to see them chatting with Mum and Dad.” (page 86)

the page of Jack and Doreen’s wedding photos – a feast for those interested in fashion but when you think of rationing and mood, it is also a triumphant achievement of planning and joy in the middle of a war.

Jillian’s parents were founding members of the Carrum Entertainment Group in 1955 and the reminiscences about the concerts and plays performed are illustrated by newspaper clippings, scanned programs and photographs. Doreen had her own band that played at all the local Barn and Square Dances held at the Carrum Fire Brigade Hall when it was situated near the Patterson River in Station Street.

Similarly, Jillian’s father was the Captain-Coach of the Carrum Life Saving Club and helped organise the Royal Life-Saving carnivals popular in the era and Jillian writes a vivid description of participating in the 1952 carnival hosted by Carrum. The book is rich in detail about neighbours and the various families involved with the Baileys, and as is often the case when people live most of their life in a particular locality, the friendship circle remains.

The history of a Carrum family is an enjoyable easy read, well set out in six parts with accompanying photographs and scanned documents:

Part 1 – the story of the maternal and paternal grandparents arriving in Australia by ship from England.

Part 2 – Doreen and Jack’s memories of childhood, marriage and children, working life and move to Carrum.

Part 3 – details of grandparents and family friends, stories of cousins.

Part 4 – the story of Jillian and her siblings childhood at Carrum, adulthood, weddings and children.

Part 5 – children’s weddings, grandchildren, family celebrations: anniversaries and Christmas parties, memories and anecdotes

Part 6 – stories relating to the family history published in Mordialloc Writers’ anthologies 2007-2015.

The anthologies Jillian refers to are in the library: A Rich Inheritance, published 2007, Carnival Caper, 2011 and Kingston My City, 2015. (This last anthology is free to download as an e-book KingstonMyCity.epub. and Jillian’s story starts p.74)

I couldn’t attend the launch of The history of a Carrum Family which happened when lockdown 4 eased December 2020. Remaining border restrictions meant family members interstate watched the launch remotely.(Yeah for the Internet!)

I’d had a rough year health-wise and a recent diagnosis made crowds too risky. Fortunately, Jillian’s son recorded the event and one of her friends put together a lovely memory book about the successful launch.

Here are a couple of extracts putting the launch in context and explaining the start of Jillian’s writing journey:

In the first essay when Jillian began writing her family history she focused on the first decade – 1949-1959:

I cast my mind back to 1948 when my parents bought a block of land in Carrum for 50 pounds. Dad and a family friend, Jack Millane, a carpenter-joiner by trade, started to build our house at the end of 1949...

They were tough times and over the next ten years, shortages of labour and building materials meant many people built their own houses, or provided unskilled labour for friends to cut construction costs and delays. ‘Materials were hard to get,’ Dad said, ‘even the nails were like gold. You had to dig deep to find them.’

On hearing about the shortage, Eric ‘Sandy’ McDougall, the local chemist and well-known Carrum identity said, ‘I’ll get you some nails, Jack.’ Sandy supplied Dad, and many others, with nails he railed down from Sydney. These nails were made in Melbourne, but were rationed to other states according to need, by the Gold Nail Company and government regulations. Mr Mac (as a lot of people called him), set up a hardware corner in his chemist-grocery mixed business, providing an excellent service for the local community.

Dad worked all week, and at weekends he rode his pushbike from Chelsea to Carrum to help Jack build the house...” (page 114)

The recent upheavals because of the pandemic makes some of this information eerily familiar as does the poignant story of Laurel Bailey, Jillian’s Aunt, born in 1932. Six-year-old Laurel collapsed on stage at the Princess Theatre during a dance performance to become:

… one of the first Infantile Paralysis cases in Victoria. She spent the next two years in the Hampton Hospital (now known as Linacre Rehab Hospital) paralysed from the chest down inside an iron lung to help her breathe. She had contracted Polio from her cousin, Beryl who had no symptoms at all. Beryl went on to marry and give birth to twelve children.

Laurel was one of the fortunate ones under the care of Sister Kenny, whose healing methods became internationally famous for her wonderful work with Polio victims. Unfortunately, Australia lost Sister Kenny to overseas due to the lack of respect and belief in the work she did. She fought the government to get help for polio sufferers for years without success... ” (page 48)

Another snippet of history in Jillian’s book that resonates with today’s news about what you can and cannot do during lockdown is her mother buying a hair salon in Carrum in the late 1950s – the site now occupied by Aldi’s supermarket. Jillian worked there too:

“I started at Venus College of Hair and Beauty Culture in February 1958. It was a fifteen month course, covering everything in hair and beauty work. I really enjoyed my studies and was proud of my qualifications. I worked with Mum in her salon on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings during this time to get some practical knowledge and hands-on experience. Mum eventually sold the business about two years later when I was qualified and had a position in a wonderful salon.” (page 63)

The story of following in her mother’s footsteps to own hairdressing salons and all the accompanying experiences that go with a career where every day is filled with personalities and personal stories will hopefully be the topic of Jillian’s next book when she writes her memoirs!

Until then, after fourteen years of research and writing, she can enjoy the well-deserved praise and gratitude from family and friends for The history of a Carrum family.

We survived all that 2020 threw at us and I’m pleased I had a small part to play in Jillian sharing her story of the strength, resilience and remarkable lives of earlier generations.

If you want to read about others who have displayed Jillian’s determination to publish a slice of history click on the links below:

Purpose, Persistence, and Perspiration make Edna a Published Author for her 90th birthday!

More than Irish Eyes Are Smiling

A fond farewell to a friend, writer, and fellow Celt – thanks for a treasure trove of lovely memories!

Perhaps you’ll be inspired to write your family’s story!

Do You Talk to Yourself or the Dog or Maybe the Furniture?

board outside kiosk Mordialloc.jpg

Day Fifteen – Add Dialogue to the Scene

How we talk and what we say is part of our personality and our character. Others will often judge us by our speech (the content as well as manner), may even identify us by the way we talk.

For instance, because I still have a recognisable accent people will refer to me as ‘that Scotswoman’,’the Scots lass’, ‘the lady with an accent’, ‘the woman who speaks funny’,  ‘Jock’, ‘the Pommy’, ‘the Brit’, ‘the Irish one’ – I’ve also had variations not so complimentary ‘the foreigner’, ‘the red-ragger’ ‘that wog’  …

What you say and how you say it is important. It is important in real life and therefore is important in writing – with a few tricks and rules of what not to do thrown in.

download.jpg

People pick up your mood by your tone of voice – those who know you will not only pick up the obvious mood but also the nuances.

You know, how a domestic scene can play out:

Do you like my new dress?

A few seconds pause.

Of course, I do, dear.

You didn’t even look.

Yes, I did dear.

No, you didn’t.

Remote Control for TV is grabbed, stabbed and television silenced.

You can have a really good look now.

Hmmm. Very… nice… dear.

talking statue Isaac Newton - British Library.jpg
You can ask questions of many of the statues around London and learn about the life of famous people such as Isaac Newton at the British Library…

Dialogue Is Important

But it can be difficult to write so that it sounds natural. you don’t want your characters to sound like a talking statue – wooden, without warmth, boring, unrealistic…

Dialogue is difficult to master as a writer. You have to constantly work at it to sound natural but you can’t be over the top with accents or else characters can become caricatures.

Most people don’t speak in grammatical or even complete sentences but you can’t write in all the ums and ahs either. There has to be a balance.

It is as author Stephen King advises,

Writing good dialogue is art as well as craft.”

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino adds,

“If I’m doing my job right, then I’m not writing dialogue; the characters are saying the dialogue, and I’m just jotting it down.”

This is what I tried to do in a class exercise years ago – the students could choose a picture as a prompt and had to write more than one voice into the scene without using he said, she said etc. A Fishy Story by Mairi Neil

download-3.jpg

Try these simple exercises—

Go to a busy place and listen to people. Dialogue moves a story along quite quickly but it must sound authentic.

At the moment with COVID-19 if you are in lockdown, you will have to rely on memory or eavesdrop on neighbours or whoever is sharing your house, or put on a DVD of a film or watch a documentary, game show, (even adverts) to make notes of conversations. (Scroll down for exercises)

If people are with friends or family, they will speak more naturally.  Find someone who is sitting with a friend and listen (don’t be too intrusive or you might be accused of stalking or receive threats with violence for being rude and nosy!).

If you’re in a coffee shop, you might overhear people talking to friends about what’s been going on in their life. This is the best way to hear a conversation you can write as natural dialogue. For me, the best inspiration for stories and dialogue tips found when travelling on public transport

The old man eased into the seat opposite and raised his trilby. His courteous nod revealed a bald patch atop thinning grey hair. A Lancashire brogue boomed, ‘Morning ma’am, Fred’s the name, pension bludger’s me game.’

Doris smiled. In her cultured Australian accent, she said, ‘I’m Doris and I’m retired too.’

‘I’m eighty-five,’ Fred said waving a gnarled hand, ‘and feeling it today.’ His rheumy blue eyes darted from Doris to other passengers engrossed in conversation or plugged into mp3 players. ‘ I don’t know why I’m still alive,’ he added with a fit of coughing.

Brown eyes widened as Doris squirmed in the vinyl seat; picked at an imaginary spot on her linen skirt. In a barely audible voice, she said, ‘I’m eighty-five too and thank God for still being here.’ She blinked. ‘Many of my friends aren’t.’

Fred adjusted silver-rimmed spectacles slipping close to the edge of his hooked nose. He rubbed at his short beard; licked creased lips. A garden gnome coming to life flashed into Doris’s mind, but her smile disappeared when he said, ‘I don’t believe in God or Eternal Life. Don’t worry about shuffling off. Don’t give a toss what happens when I die.’

Doris kneaded her wedding ring and clasped her hands to still restless fingers. Fair eyelashes flickered behind tortoiseshell glass frames as she noted Fred’s blue-grey cotton bomber-jacket and matching trousers, his fashionable fine-checked shirt. Tieless, but neat; plus his black leather loafers gleamed and screamed ex-army. Arthur always said, ‘you can tell an ex-serviceman by their polished shoes.’ He was inevitably right.

Not wanting to give offence, she chose her words, adopting the placating tone she used when her husband got in one of his moods. ‘Our generation, who served throughout the war, question what we were taught to believe.’ She tensed thin shoulders. ‘A wiser power than us will reveal the truth when ready.’

Fred ignored the last sentence. ‘That’s right love, eight years in the Royal Navy – joined up for the duration and stayed on a bit.’ His voice flattened, ‘survived being bombed, being sunk twice and,’ he ended with a flourish, ‘bad grub and too much grog.’

Doris laughed. Students sitting nearby smirked, the plump matron lowered her magazine. Doris thought of Arthur and the legacy of his experience. The tram stuttered past towering office blocks, darkened inside as a large cloud swallowed the sun. She shivered. Did Fred suffer night sweats and awful dreams? She remembered Arthur’s flashbacks of the trauma of his war; his years of heavy drinking. Did Fred’s wife contend with erratic and sometimes violent outbursts amid his jolliness?

She forced her attention to the present as her companion said, ‘I had eight brothers you know –– and they’re all dead. I’m the lucky last!’ He paused. ‘Well, I don’t know about luck, but I’m the bloody last.’

from Just for The Moment, Mairi Neil

Watch a good movie. Quentin Tarantino movies are known for their excellent dialogue, but there’s an endless list of what you can watch to improve your writing. Dialogue is usually well planned in films for maximum value. There’s only a limited amount of time to say something on the screen. The film is a great reference for studying good AND bad dialogue.

Write a scene where each character can only say one sentence. How will you convey what they’re trying to say and move the story along with a limited amount of dialogue? This will also help you improve your descriptive writing. Remember, sometimes less is more when it comes to dialogue. You want to show your readers what’s going on, not tell them.

Watch a clip from either a TV show or a movie, and rewrite the dialogue in that scene. How can you improve it? What can be cut out? What can be added? This will help you understand dialogue and how you can improve your own.

Talking Heads Stromness Orkney.jpg
Shop in Orkney

Be a good observer and listener

Identify some key variables and play with them. if you write good dialogue, the reader feels they are in the story with the character. They are right there and can hear the voice. You have to avoid just having talking heads with no real action or using the dialogue to dump a lot of information rather than move the story forward.

Think back and analyse a recent conversation and ask these questions:

  • What was said?
  • How was it said?
  • Who said it?
  • Why was it said?
  • How did you perceive it?

If you can remember the last argument, debate or disagreement you had or witnessed even better to capture it in words.

If you can “hear” the character’s voice in your head, that’s better than any worksheet. Think of the key variables influencing dialogue:

Perhaps goals and agendas, characters’ knowledge of each other, characters’ attitudes toward each other, relative status of the characters …

  • What type of vocabulary does a character use (formal, slang, profane, simple sophisticated… )
  • How does the character structure their sentences (hesitations, complex or simple, fragmented, long-winded… )
  • What attitude or tone of voice does the character have (abrupt, sarcastic, imperious, humble, polite, rude, boastful, flirtatious, angry, pedantic… )
  • What subject matter or commentary does the character prefer ( egotistic, talking about self, sensitive, gossipy, apologetic, religious, anxious, worried about money, bombastic…)

Here is a story I wrote from a prompt that said you had to have three characters with very different voices Without Grace a short story Mairi Neil

FB_Carl Jung on solitude and silence

It is also important to remember that silence or a pause in a scene can be realistic dialogue and reveal more about the character and plot development than pages of dialogue or telling.

Action is the best way to show external conflict and dialogue and internalisation by the character (thoughts) the best ways to present the internal struggles.

Your Turn To Write

I’ve chosen some pictures of scenes that scream story – you can manipulate the setting and people to any country or era you choose.

I love Edward Hopper‘s paintings – they are evocative of an America from an era I remember in movies, television shows and many novels.

These pictures are from a beautiful book of his most famous works I picked up in a wonderful bookshop in Melbourne’s centre.  They sold Remainder hardback stock at a fraction of the original cost. I’ve never been in a job with a high salary but when I was young and single and working in the city in the 70s and 80s, I haunted Mary Martin’s bookshop.

Hopper 3
Nighthawks 1942 by Edward Hopper a painting that portrays people in a downtown diner late at night. It is Hopper’s most famous work and is one of the most recognisable paintings in American art.

Hopper 2
Chop Suey, 1929, two women in conversation at a restaurant

Hopper 1
Office At Night, 1940, open to endless interpretation.

Throughout his career, Edward Hopper was concerned with the relationship between “the facts” of observation and the improvisation that happened when making a work of art. Use your imagination and write about the characters.

Reveal their personalities and character through dialogue as well as behaviour.

Things to think about:

You can write from the point of view of one character – what is their goal or agenda?

  • Does the non-point of view character have a hidden agenda? What is their backstory?
  • Change one character’s attitude toward the other 
  • Change one character’s knowledge about the other.
  • Change the relative status between the characters (increase or decrease the difference in status, or swap their statuses)

If these pictures don’t spark your imagination then practise writing dialogue by:

Write a scene with two characters having an extremely tense conversation in a peaceful setting such as

  • the botanical gardens,
  • an avenue of cherry blossom trees,
  • an empty beach
  • an empty church
  • a cemetery

OR

Imagine a courtroom scene or a police interview room,  a telephone conversation between a teenager and parent, or a scene at a reception desk where there has been a mistake with a booking.

Finally – You Can Do a Dr Doolittle…

Hippo Talk Werribbee Zoo.jpg
Write a story from the point of view of animals at the zoo or domestic pets – give them a voice!

Happy Writing