19 April 2017

The Dog Barked and the "little lion" roared - Jack Webb at Doignies, France April 1917

Earlier this month marked the centenary of the capture of Doignies. We reflect on the campaign through the story of local Canberran John Webb, known as 'Jack', who fought in the campaign and paid the ultimate price.

Jack Webb was a barman at the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in 1916. He was a nuggetty man of 42 years with a walrus moustache and whose toughness was no doubt an advantage in the rough and tumble of a country pub. The liquor trade was in his blood as his grandmother, Julia Webb, better known as ‘Judy the Great’, had been a nurse, midwife and one-time sly grog operator at Charnwood. His grandparents later farmed in Canberra, on part of the Springbank property (near the O’Connor shops), and it was probably there that Jack was born in 1873.

His mother Ann McInnes grew up in Canberra and married Thomas Webb in 1870. Tom was something of a larrikin and prone to finding trouble. He deserted his young family shortly before Ann died in 1874, when Jack was still a baby. Jack was taken in as a ward by Richard Shumack of Springvale, Weetangera.

Shumack was a widower with a large family of his own. The household was run by his 17 year old daughter Phoebe* but it is likely that her fourteen year old sister Emily cared for baby Jack. The Shumacks were sober, hard-working farmers and the children were expected to pull their weight in the fields. They were also expected to go to school, but Jack was not much of a student, and preferred to play the truant as Shumack found out in 1884 when he was fined for his ward’s non attendance at classes.

As he grew older Jack probably lived with his uncle and aunt, John and Sarah McInnes at Kowen to the east of Canberra. The McInnes’ already had fourteen children of their own but they also were responsible for five nieces and nephews (including at least two of the Webb children). Life was hard and space was at a premium so some of the children had to sleep in the hayshed.

As a young man Jack took to the rugby field with the Red and Blacks of Queanbeyan, gaining a reputation during the 1890s and early 1900s as one of the toughest forwards in the district and “a man to be watched by the opposing side being a sure tackler and a hard man to grass”.  He “feared no one on the football field or in the noble art of self defence”.
ACT Memorial, Jack Webb from, Our Queanbeyan 'Boys' No.4 postcard,  Howard & Shearsby 191?, provided courtesy of Patricia Hardy.
Source: ACT Memorial, Jack Webb from, Our Queanbeyan 'Boys' No.4 postcard,
Howard & Shearsby 191?, provided courtesy of Patricia Hardy.
Even though he was in his forties when the World War I began, it wasn’t Jack’s age that prevented him from immediately enlisting. In 1914 the AIF recruited only those men who met the most stringent physical standards which included a minimum height of five feet six inches. Jack was five feet two inches tall. However, as the war dragged on, and casualties mounted, the minimum height was gradually reduced to five feet four, then five feet three and finally to five feet two inches.

By then the Gallipoli campaign had become a stalemate, but it had also fanned the fire of national pride in the hearts of many Australians. Publicity for recruitment was boosted by the Cooee march from Gilgandra to Sydney in October 1915. This march inspired other route marches including the Men from Snowy River march from Delegate to Goulburn, which passed through Queanbeyan in January 1916. Jack was one of the men who enlisted on that march.

Bob Beatty, a team mate from his footballing days, described Jack as a “little lion - all fight and every muscle taut”.  Beatty met up with him at camp in Goulburn just before he sailed writing: “When we talked of what was before him I caught the old familiar glint of fire in his game eye, the same old confident chuckle in his voice, and with arms folded and head slightly aslant as usual he told me of his training, how fit he felt, and all he longed for was close quarters.”

Jack served with the 55th Battalion which was part of the 14th Brigade of the 5th Division of the AIF. More men from the Canberra-Queanbeyan area served in the 55th Battalion than in any other unit. After being decimated at Fromelles in July 1916 the 55th Battalion went through a re-building phase and amongst the reinforcements was Jack who joined the unit at Buire at the rear of the frontline in the Somme region of France on Christmas Eve 1916. It was the depths of a cruel, cold winter in the muddy trenches of the Somme. One of Jack’s mates was Jack Woodger who was married to one of his many cousins. They stuck together under heavy shell fire and when both were concussed during a bombardment, Webb remarked, “Fritz won’t get either of us after that Woodger, with his whiz bangs.”

In February 1917 the Germans began retreating towards their heavily fortified Hindenburg Line.  However, they also established strong points in villages along the way designed to delay the advancing Australians. The 5th Division pushed the Germans back along the road between Bapaume and Cambrai but they had to clear the enemy from these villages. One of the villages was Doignies and the 55th Battalion was given the task of capturing it.

 ACT Memorial, Jack O'Grady from  Our Queanbeyan 'Boys' No.2 postcard, Howard & Shearsby 191?, provided courtesy of Patricia Hardy
Image: ACT MemorialJack O'Grady from  Our Queanbeyan 'Boys'
No.2 postcard, Howard & Shearsby 191?,
provided courtesy of Patricia Hardy.
On the night before the attack the 55th Battalion assembled in a sunken road about 1500 metres from Doignies. Jack O’Grady served with Webb in C Company and saw him walking up and down the road during the night. “Coming towards dawn and zero hour”, O’Grady recalled, “Webb came over to me and said, we must have a talk, he was sure it was his last day on earth” (Cook, page 111).

Just before dawn on 2 April 1917 the 55th Battalion began moving forward.  To maintain the element of surprise, they did not have the usual artillery barrage. While advancing through the snow, rain and a piercing wind towards a beetroot factory on the outskirts of Doignies, the leading company of the 55th Battalion was joined by a small dog resembling a kelpie who trotted alongside the men. When the dog saw the Germans at the beetroot factory it ran up to them growling and barking and alerting the enemy to the presence of the Australians.

The Germans at the factory began firing and throwing bombs delaying the 55th Battalion and forcing its officers to quickly revise the plan of attack. Originally C Company was to skirt the village and attack Doignies from the rear but the barking dog changed that. Instead they had to cross several hundred metres of flat open country to reach the village. There was no cover, so they advanced in extended lines in short rushes through a hail of machine gun fire.

As they closed in on the village, Webb shot a German sniping from the belfry in the churchyard, singing out to O’Grady “I am taking this one with me”.  But then Jack was hit. O’Grady was with him when “his throat was cut by a piece of shell and another piece through his chest” (Cook, page 116). According to Woodger, Webb “was killed instantly - a bullet between the eyes.” He could not find much more to say except; “Poor ‘Webbie’. He was a good soldier.”

Doignies - the Consolidation (dark arrows indicate direction of German counter attacks) (Cook, page 118)
Doignies - the Consolidation (dark arrows indicate direction of German counter attacks) (Cook, page 118)
The 55th Battalion took Doignies after a short, sharp fight. However, the enemy had mined and booby-trapped parts of the village and several explosions were heard. Then the Germans began shelling the village and launched seven counter attacks over the next twelve hours. All the while, from the north-east of Doignies, a machine gun fired persistently causing casualties.
To the official war historian, Charles Bean, the capture of Doignies was achieved “almost without loss” yet about 240 men from the 55th Battalion were killed or wounded. Perhaps the sheer scale of the carnage in the war coloured Bean’s assessment. Like Webb, 20 year old Harry Robertson from Oaks Estate was one of the ‘Snowies’ and was also killed during the fighting at Doignies. Sam Jacobs and Arthur Lodge were amongst the wounded.
The Canon F. G. Ward window.  St. John's Canberra.
Source: The Canon F. G. Ward
St. John's Canberra.

Sadly for Jack Webb, no family members claimed his personal effects or medals. He wasn’t however forgotten, the Queanbeyan Age published several tributes to him, the proprietors of the Royal Hotel dedicated a mission cross to him in St. Gregory’s Church in Queanbeyan and the people of Weetangerra included him on their honour roll currently on display in the Schoolhouse Museum at St. John’s.

There is a postscript to this story.

Canon Frederick Ward was rector at St. John the Baptist Church in Canberra from 1913 to 1929, but he also served in the Great War as a chaplain with the 5th Division of the AIF including on the battlefields of the Somme. As the Australians advanced to the Hindenberg Line in 1917, Ward’s “pious hand” collected fragments of stained glass from ruined churches, including the church at Doignies, and he brought them home in 1918. As a parting gift to St. John’s when he left the parish in 1929, Ward had a local glazier create a small stained glass window from the fragments. The window stands in the south porch of the church, a poignant memorial to Webb, Robertson and those other men from the Canberra district who died in 1916 and 1917 during the fighting on the Somme.

'He took them into the vestry to see the two small lanceolate windows fitted with a crazy pattern of gem-like glass gathered by a pious hand from shattered and bombarded churches in Flanders to be a memorial to the dead in Canberra.”  From Plaque with Laurel by M. Barnard Eldershaw (1937)


Bean, C. E. W. (1934). The official history of Australia in the war of 1914-1918 (Volume 4, pages 222-231). Angus & Robertson.

Burness, E. (2008). "Judy the Great", Newsletter, Canberra and District Historical Society, February 2008. 

Cook, T. J. (2014). Snowy to the Somme: A Muddy and Bloody Campaign, 1916-1918. (pages 111, 116, 118). Big Sky Publishing.

Eldershaw, M. B. (1937). Plaque with laurel. (pages 211). GG Harrap.

Ellis, A. D. (1920). The Story of the Fifth Australian Division: Being an Authoritative Account of the Division's Doings in Egypt, France and Belgium. (pages 191-192) Hodder and Stoughton.

Lea-Scarlett, E. J. (1968). Queanbeyan: district and people. (pages 117, 160). Queanbeyan Municipal Council.

Shumack, S. (1967). An Autobiography; Or, Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers. (pages 134-135). 
Canberra: Australian National University Press.

The Queanbeyan Age. 29 October 1884; 8 May 1917; 15 May 1917; 11 September 1917.

The Canberra Times. 12 June 1929, page 4.

* Phoebe Blundell (nee Shumack) was the mother of Howard Blundell (born in 1886 at Weetangerra, died in 1920 at Tumut from the effects of mustard gas poisoning) who is also commemorated on the ACT Memorial.

16 February 2017

The Banka Island Massacre and the legacy of Sister Mona Tait

Today we pay our respects to Mona Tait and those who died 75 years ago today on 16 February 1942 in what is known as the Banka Massacre.

In 1941, a nurse in her mid twenties, working in Canberra signed up for the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). Her photo at enlistment shows a fresh faced and smiling young woman.  Mona Tait soon became immersed in the horrors of war and too quickly pay the ultimate price for her country.

Mona Tait enlistment photo
Mona Tait enlistment photo
Source Australian War Memorial, image P02783.035 

Sister Mona Margaret Anderson Tait trained as a nurse at Cessnock and was sister in charge of the X-ray department at Canberra Hospital for three years prior to enlisting in January 1941. She was attached to Victoria Barracks for eight months before being sent to Malaya where she nursed with the 13th Australian General Hospital at Malacca and Singapore. Mona was among the last 65 Australian nurses evacuated from Singapore on the SS Vyner Brooke on 12 February 1942.  The Vyner Brook carried injured servicemen as well as civilian men, women and children.

The Vyner Brooke was sunk by the Japanese off Bangka Island East of Sumatra, held by the Japanese.  While some of the survivors attempted to arrange a surrender, 22 nurses remained on Radji Beach to tend the 60 wounded servicemen and crew. Japanese soldiers arrived at the beach and, after bayoneting the men, forced the remaining 22 Australian nurses and one British civilian to wade into the sea where they were shot from behind. Sister Tait was killed at the young age of 27.  There were two survivors of the massacre, Sister Vivian Bullwinkel and a British soldier.  Only Sister Bullwinkel survived the war and gave evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.

Sister Tait and Sister May Hayman (a missionary nurse  killed by the Japanese at Gona, New Guinea in 1942) were commemorated by a plaque at Royal Canberra Hospital. When the hospital closed in 1991 the plaque was removed to the Returned and Services League (RSL) Headquarters on Constitution Avenue in Campbell ACT.

The RSL instigated an award - The Mona Tait and May Hayman Memorial Fund Scholarship - in which a prize of $350 is awarded annually, through the University of Canberra, to the nursing student with the highest results in the their first year of study.

The Australian War Memorial has in its collection a letter written by Sister Tait to Anne Burrows, in Canberra, in February 1942 where she mentions meeting Frank Burrows, Anne's brother, who died as a POW on the Burma-Thai railroad.

75 years on we especially honour the service of  Mona Tait and those who fell with her.

Lest we forget

ACT  Memorial Certificate for Mona Margaret Anderson Tait
ACT  Memorial Certificate for Mona Margaret Anderson Tait
Source: ACT Memorial web site
Further reading available from the LibrariesACT catalogue:

Shaw, Ian W, On Radji BeachSydney Pan, [2012]


Central Army Records Office, 'P02783.035', Photograph Collection. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02783.035. Australian War Memorial, Canberra

LibrariesACT, 'TAIT, Mona Margaret Anderson', ACT Memorial. http://www.memorial.act.gov.au/search/person/tait-mona-margaret-anderson , LibrariesACT, Canberra

Hall, Michael (Contributor), 'Dangerous Seas', Stories from the ACT Memorial. http://www.library.act.gov.au/find/history/stories_from_the_act_memorial/dangerous_seas, LibrariesACT, Canberra

Bowen, James, 'The Banka Island massacre (1942)'', The Pacific War, http://www.pacificwar.org.au/JapWarCrimes/TenWarCrimes/Banka_Massacre.html, The Pacific War Historical Society, 2009

RSL National 'RSL Awards', RSL National. http://rsl.org.au/About-Us/Awards-Scholarships, RSL National, Canberra

15 February 2017

The Brotherhood of Man - the Fall of Singapore and the re-dedication of St Ninian's Church

On this day, 75 years ago, the re-dedication of a church associated with the settlers of the Limestone Plains and a significant event in Australia's military history occurred. For wartime Prime Minister John Curtin it was a day that reinforced for him the importance of defending the society the pioneers had created - the brotherhood of man.

Shortly after the Reverend Hector Harrison arrived in Canberra in 1940, to take up duty at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Forrest, he noticed the little stone church on the road to Yass. It was the original Canberra Presbyterian Church, constructed in the 1870s, but in 1940 was being used as a barn by the Southwell brothers, Fred and Jack, lessees of the property, Fern Hill, on which it stood.  Harrison sought and gained the agreement of the Department of Interior and the Southwell brothers to use the old church for its original, spiritual purposes.
Location of St Ninian's Church (red dot) on Yass Road. Freehold portions (shaded) held by Presbyterian adherents in 1910.
Source: Gardiner and Parker, page 34
By Sunday, 15 February 1942, the church was ready to be re-dedicated as St. Ninian’s. Present were several old parishioners and members of the pioneering families who built the church. What made the ceremony notable are both its timing and the presence of the Prime Minister, John Curtin. Why would a self-confessed agnostic like Curtin be present at a religious event, at what was then a small church in the bush, during the tumultuous period of early 1942?

Curtin was good friends with the Southwell brothers and their sister, Bella Southwell, who was manager of the Hotel Kurrajong where Curtin and other parliamentarians often stayed. Near his death Curtin spoke about the pleasure of roaming around Fred Southwell’s paddocks and he actually attended the wedding of Southwell’s daughter Thelma, where he proposed a toast to the newlyweds. Mr Harrison, a fellow West Australian, presided over the wedding and it was probably then that he invited the Prime Minister to the re-dedication ceremony.

St Ninian's Presbyterian (later Uniting) Church and signboard, Steve Schultz, 11 February 1972
Source: Schultz, Steve, Canberra Times Collection, Images ACT number 000009

Curtin was prevailed upon to say a few words after the church service. Curtin believed that it was “the hardest speech he ever had to make in his life” (Day, page 494).  He reflected on how the communities of the early pioneers developed and the importance of churches as a meeting place.  “The church”, he said, “had become a very important place, for there they had learned to share one another’s troubles”.  How he must have wanted to share his own troubles for, on that very day, thousands of Australian troops stationed at Singapore became prisoners of war when the ‘fortress’ island fell to the Japanese. Curtin added: “The fatherhood of God was closely related to the brotherhood of man”. 

John Curtin and Eric Tonkin, St Ninian's Church, 15 February 1942
Source: John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Thelma MacKinnon.Belle Southwell, JCPML00721/1/8
Before he died Curtin asked Harrison to conduct his funeral service. Harrison hesitated because Curtin’s agnosticism created doubts in his mind, but for proof of Curtin’s spiritualism he turned to the words the Prime Minister used at St. Ninian’s in 1942. Those words must have impressed Mr Harrison.  He also used them during Curtin’s funeral service.

The inscription on Curtin's gravestone aptly notes: 

His Country was his pride
His brother man his cause

More information about St Ninian's Church, Prime Minister John Curtin and the Southwell Family are available at the ACT Heritage Library

This article is also available on the Stories from the ACT Memorial web page.


Day, David, John Curtin, a life, Harper Collins, Pymble, 2006.

Gardiner, Lyndsay and Parker, Nancy 1958, Witness in stone : the story of the Presbyterian Church in North Canberra, V Hewitt, Canberra

Geoffrey Serle, 'Curtin, John (1885–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/curtin-john-9885/text17495

Hall, Michael (Contributor), The Brotherhood of Man, Stories from the ACT Memorial, http://www.library.act.gov.au/find/history/stories_from_the_act_memorial/brotherhood_of_man

1830s-1957, HMSS 0270 Southwell Family Photographs and Realia

13 January 2017

Vale Giuseppe "Joe" Giugni. Esteemed businessman, philanthropist and Canberran

With the passing of Giuseppe "Joe" Giugni on the 6th of JanuaryCanberra lost one of its true characters and entrepreneurs..

There would be few who shopped at the Fyshwick Markets from the 1970s who didn't accept slices of apple or pear off Joe's knife at his shop, Wiffen's.  It is certainly a fond memory for this librarian, of Joe the Fruit Man.

Giuseppe Gianpiero (Joe) Giugni at Fyshwick Markets, 2 May 1987
Source:  Porter, Michael, Canberra Times CollectionImages ACT number 001141

The Giugni family originate in the mountain village of Colda in northern Italy, about 50km from St Moritz in Switzerland. Joe was born there on 11 May 939, to Arturo Giugni, a soldier in the Alpini, and Caterina nee de Pedro. Arturo was seldom home during the war, fighting first in Libya, then Greece, then dying on the Russian Front in 1942. The war came to Sondrio, the nearest town, in the form of air raids; when the sirens went off the family took cover under Joe’s grandfather’s chestnut trees beyond the vineyard.
Grandfather Giacinto Giugni was a small farmer, with a few cows and chickens for food and some sheep for wool, which the women of the family turned into socks and jumpers. With a relative, Nino, he had come to Australia in the 1920s, grown tobacco in Queensland and then worked on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Giacinto returned to Italy but Nino stayed on to be joined in 1932 by Joe’s uncle Dino. After the war Dino persuaded Caterina to emigrate with Joe and his younger brother. He married Caterina the day the ship berthed in Sydney, 31 January 1950. Joe is grateful for her bravery in agreeing to marry a man she had never met and live in a foreign country so far from home. “Australia has given me everything”, he says.
In Sydney the Giugnis rented a terraced house and sub-let the spare bedroom to the Zubanis, a father and son who ran a fruit shop in Darlinghurst. From the age of 12 Joe worked in the shop on weekends, then also before and after school. At first he had no English, but his arithmetic was good and he liked the work. School was frightening, with no special assistance for migrant children to learn English and constant antagonism towards ‘enemy’ Italians in the immediate post-war period. Still with poor English skills Joe went to Darlinghurst High until he fought back against vindictive teachers and was expelled. Paddington Junior Tech was better. Joe enjoyed the manual arts classes, but left at 15 to work full time at the fruit shop.
Joe’s tolerance of the long hours waned after a while and he tried shoe repairing, butchery and welding, then a year as a clerk with the railways. None suited him, and he returned to fruit marketing but in a shop in Canterbury. He spent three years there, learning the trade properly, but lost his job during a slump and returned to the Zubani shop. At the age of 18 Joe was offered a job running a small fruit and vegetable shop, and soon afterwards he bought the shop with his mother and brother. It was tiny but well located near Strathfield railway station, and they stayed there for ten years.
At 23 Joe met and married Maruta, a refugee from Latvia. They had three children and, although they bought a bigger house, they continued to live with Maruta’s mother. During this time Joe joined Apia Soccer Club as a member of the committee, and was also a member of the Sydney Fruit and Vegetable Retailers Association. In 1965 he leased another shop with a friend, and they began driving to Crookwell and Batlow for potatoes and apples and trucking them back to Sydney during the night. The hours were cruelly long, so when Lismore banana growers wanted to open a shop in Canberra with Joe as the buyer, Joe considered it very seriously and in 1969 made the move.
This first shop in Civic soon expanded to eight, but it was hard work for little gain, and the partnership was dissolved with Joe taking over the smallest, called Wiffens, at the new Fyshwick Markets. The markets had been established after a government enquiry into the high price of fruit and vegetables in Canberra, and were designed to be growers’ outlets, thereby lowering the price to consumers. Kevin Wiffen, a Riverina citrus grower, kept the licence but Joe managed the stall. It opened four days a week, and Joe drove to Sydney wholesale markets for supplies.
Joe enjoyed these weekly market trips, maintaining earlier friendships and being persuaded to take up golf. Although he didn't care much if he won or lost, and admited to being a pretty average golfer, he relished the competitiveness.
Joe’s years of experience made him a leader in the Fyshwick markets. He introduced self-service, relying on the quality of his produce to minimise the amount rejected by his customers. While other stallholders were selling cheaply by the bucket, Joe sold by the kilo and prospered.
His marriage did not. Maruta left early in 1980 and Joe’s mother, recently widowed, moved in to help with the children. Joe had made friends with some Thai embassy staff and through them met Chun Chai, a trade counsellor; they married in 1981 and had a son in 1984. Chun Chai kept her diplomatic job, taking an overseas posting to Rome in 1988, chosen because Joe spoke the language and wanted the opportunity to revisit his homeland. Joe visited every couple of months, leaving his eldest son in charge of the shop. Chun Chai’s next posting was Thailand, then Sydney, making the visits progressively easier. She became an Australian citizen in 2007.
In that year also, Wiffens was sold, although the Giugni family continued their long association with the markets. From the beginning Joe took an active role. As president of the Canberra Retail Markets Association, and later as director of the consortium of market traders, he has steered up to 40 stallholders through several reorganisations. In 1988, after years of on-off negotiations, Fyshwick Market Traders bought the facility from the government and a board of six shareholders and an independent chairman was established to run the markets. In January 2016 the complex was bought by the Irvine family, to whom Joe had sold Wiffens in 2007.
A five-year multi-million dollar revamp of the markets ended in 2012. Joe has overseen it all. From makeshift buildings erected in the 1970s with an expected life of about ten years, he has nursed and nurtured the markets into an award-winning structure that recreates the traditional market square but offers 21st century facilities. One building, named for Joe, has murals representing his home village of Colda.
Joe ensured that the markets contribute to the community. They donate more than $110,000 annually in cash or products to events from the Australia Day breakfast to The Canberra Times fun run, and also donate food for a Christmas Day dinner for the homeless in Canberra.
He contributed personally as well. In the mid 1990s he was on a committee to establish the International Fruit and Vegetable Dealers’ Convention. He was a Rotarian, and was involved in their successful promotion of reusable canvas shopping bags. He supported the Australian National Eisteddfod and several charities including the Heart Foundation.
Joe handed Wiffens over to his children and youngest brother in 1999. This was a big year for Joe. Besides being named Canberra Citizen of the Year, he almost died. A heart operation saved him, and then a proposed leg amputation was averted by having a steel rod inserted, allowing Joe to keep playing golf.
Joe has been compared with a pineapple: “rough on the outside but sweet on the inside''. When asked to describe himself, he would say he is “just a normal, down-to-earth, big-mouth, shit-stirrer”. By any name, he was a Canberra institution.

Awards and Distinctions

  • 1999 Canberra Citizen of the Year for his contribution in providing donations of fruit and vegetables and financial contributions to charities and soup kitchens
  • 2009 Fyshwick Markets won the small business category at the Ethnic Business Awards
  • 2013 Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the community through multicultural and charitable organisations.

Select Bibliography

1999 Guigni, Giuseppe, The story of Giuseppe Gianpiero Giugni and his family, Canberra
2009 Fruits of labour for a migrant spirit, Canberra Times, 27 December.

10 January 2017

"Call me Jim": Looking back on the life of Lial James (Jim) Woods OAM, 1913 - 2016

Lial James (Jim) Wood, circa 1994
Lial James (Jim) Woods, circa 1994
Source: Looking back, p. 3
We were saddened to hear of the passing, on 27 December 2016, of Queanbeyan resident, and historical treasure, Jim Woods. Jim's life spanned 103 years, more than a lifetime for most, in which he was a highly active citizen who believed in his abilities. He turned his hand to so many endeavours and achieved great success in a number of areas;  as a journalist, editor, businessman, sportsman, printer, community leader, musician and family man. He saw incredible change and was agile in adapting to what it offered so that he remained current, if not at the forefront.

Born on November 11, 1913 in Temora to Alfred James and Rose Ellen Woods, Jim was the eldest of seven children. At the age of six he attended Temora Public Primary School, and like so many of that time, he was part of the "barefoot brigade", attending school without shoes. This was an indication of the financial situation of a family. In his autobiography Looking Back, Jim described himself as an average student who didn't really like his first name, nor the associated nicknames, so he started using his middle name, thus ending up with Jim.

Jim assumed the role of paperboy at a very early age for The Temora Star, by chance when he noticed boys lining up outside the newspapers premises and discovered the opportunity to sell papers. Jim did his deliveries by foot, because he didn't have a bike. The effort did not go unnoticed by John Arthur Bradley and at the mere age of 14 - the then legal age in which a student could leave school - Jim was offered a position with Bradley's Temora Independent. This was the beginning of a 66 year career in the printing and newspaper industry and a long association with the Bradley family - as an employee for 22 years and a business partner in 10 newspapers and printing businesses in southern NSW.

The premises of The Crookwell Gazette in 1949 when Jim took over the paper with Jack and Arthur Bradley.
The premises of The Crookwell Gazette in 1949 when Jim took over the paper with Jack and Arthur Bradley.
Source: Looking back, p. 26
Jim was an active sports participant. In his 20s and 30s cricket, hockey, tennis and rugby league were were his preferences, with cricket being the number one choice.  For 20 years he played cricket and was involved in club administration, often being club captain and selector. He played hooker for the Temora Dragons and played first grade in the Temora Maher Cup Team. Later in life be replaced these sports with golf and lawn bowls. As a lawn bowler Jim represented the Queanbeyan area on over 150 occasions. He was also a patron of the Queanbeyan Golf Club and Queanbeyan Junior Cricket Team. He modeled and supported the importance of sport as a part of life.

Music was also a feature of Jim's life, his father bought him a banjo mandolin as a school boy and he had some short term lessons. He would play on his veranda and with locals, learning very quickly that he could earn a bit of  extra money too. He later turned his hand to the tenor horn and then the trombone enabling him to to do dance and orchestra work. He also played the saxophone.

After a courtship of 4 years, Jim married Mary Walterina (Rene) Wallace in 1938, a marriage that would span 65 years and result in two sons Ken and Bob, as well as grand children and great grand children. He believed in the family unit and was proud that three generations of his family worked in the newspaper business associated with The Queanbeyan Age.

The Queanbeyan Age Building in 1956 when the Bradleys and the Woods family went into partnership with the Shakespeare family of  The Canberra Times.
The Queanbeyan Age Building in 1956 when the Bradleys and the Woods family went into partnership with the Shakespeare family of  The Canberra Times.
Source: Looking back, p. 31
The Woods family moved to Queanbeyan in 1958. following almost nine years in Crookwell, after leaving Temora. The decision to move and go into part ownership of The Queanbeyan Age was a difficult one as the family was settled and active in the Crookwell community. They were also feeling on top of their finances after going into considerable debt to co-own The Crookwell Gazette. With family in mind, in particular future prospects for the boys. the decision was made, despite the newly acquired The Queanbeyan Age being near bankrupt.

Jim spent much of the next decade in Queanbeyan re-building the premises and re-equipping the newspaper plant. The Queanbeyan Age prospered as a result with more publications introduced during the week.

In 1971, Jim expanded his business by striking deals that resulted in acquiring newspapers at Moruya Bega and Eden. Braidwood was also added to the portfolio at the time for the unbelievable price of ten dollars (More details about this acquisition and the others can be found along with other insights into the man in his autobiography Looking Back. The ACT Heritage Library has two copies that you can come in and read).
Front cover of Jim Wood's autobiography Looking Back
Front cover of Jim Wood's autobiography Looking Back
Jim's accumulation of newspaper businesses with the Bradleys continued as did his participation and leadership in the Queanbeyan Community. He instigated the Queanbeyan and District Historical Society and the associated Queanbeyan and District Historical Museum in the mid to late 1960s.

In 1985, The Queanbeyan Age celebrated its 125th birthday and marked the event with a donation of the Queanbeyan City's first fountain in the Town Park, to coincide with the Queanbeyan City Council's centenary. Jim also received the Order of Australia that year. Such honorable recognition did not slow Jim down. He was a Rotarian for over 4 decades, through which he was involved with the Queanbeyan Floral Festival and received Rotarian of the Year (1991 - 1992).

Jim was a driving force in establishing the Queanbeyan Sporting Gallery, which opened in 1993. He volunteered a great deal of  his time in gathering information. photographs, arranging type setting and putting together many entries. He was assisted by his son Bob Woods, and other staff of The Queanbeyan Age, who volunteered their time to the Queanbeyan City Council project. The same year Jim became Queanbeyan Citizen of the Year.
Front cover of a book about the Queanbeyan Sporting Gallery Queanbeyan sporting gallery at the Queanbeyan Bicentennial Function Centre
Front cover of a book about the Queanbeyan Sporting Gallery Queanbeyan sporting gallery at the Queanbeyan Bicentennial Function Centre
In 1994 Jim officially retired, at the age of 81, which also coincided with the sale of The Queanbeyan Age to Rural Press Ltd.  Whilst paid work had ended, his community work continued.

The Queanbeyan Printing Museum was officially opened on 23 October 2004. Jim set it up  to illustrate letterpress printing technology over 100 years and the history of Queanbeyan's first newspaper The Golden Age, later renamed The Queanbeyan Age. Jim remained a volunteer at the museum, even as a centenarian.
Catalogue of  The Queanbeyan Print Museum Collection held at the ACT Heritage Library
Catalogue of  The Queanbeyan Print Museum Collection 2006 held at the ACT Heritage Library
Jim's commitment  to the Queanbeyan community and business was well recognised. In 2010, Jim received the Queanbeyan City Council's outstanding contribution to heritage award and in 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Queanbeyan Business Excellence Awards.

In 2012, Jim was interviewed by the Canberra Panel of Engineering Heritage Australia as part of its oral history project. A summary of the interview is available on the Libraries ACT Website .  The interview can be listened to at the ACT Heritage Library.

There are so many other stories and achievements that illustrate the man that Jim was and the roles he played in over a century of life. The Queanbeyan community has lost a key citizen, but his contributions will continue to be a part of the community and local history.

Farewell Mr Woods your tireless efforts will not be forgotten.

Jim Woods autograph
Jim Woods inscription in his autobiography held at the ACT Heritage Library
Source: Looking back, p. 1


2013, 'Celebrating Jim Woods' , The Queanbeyan Age http://www.queanbeyanagechronicle.com.au/story/1895730/celebrating-jim-woods/ 

2016, 'Jim Woods', Queanbeyan Printing Museumhttp://queanbeyanprintingmuseum.com/jim_woods.html

Woods, Jim 1997, Queanbeyan sporting gallery at the Queanbeyan Bicentennial Function Centre, Queanbeyan City Council, Queanbeyan, NSW.

Woods, Lial James 1995, Looking back, Queanbeyan, NSW. 

12 December 2016

On this day in history: Canberra land goes for a song

The first land auction in the ACT, 12 December 1924. On the platform, from left are:  J. H. Calthorpe, H. C. Crammond, W. G. Woodger, Sir Austin Chapman and T. E. Woodger.  Source: #003693, Images ACT,
The first land auction in the ACT, 12 December 1924. On the platform is (from left):
 J. H. Calthorpe, H. C. Crammond, W. G. Woodger, Sir Austin Chapman and T. E. Woodger.
Source: #003693, Images ACT

On the 12th December 1924 the very first land auction was held in the Australian Capital Territory. At the time, Canberra was still in its infancy, with only a scattering of buildings around the Molonglo River like the Hotel Canberra, St John’s Church, Blundell’s Farmhouse and some small cottages at Acton and Duntroon. The population of 1,500 lived mainly in tents and huts. Houses were impossible to get.

But on this day there came a great change. As seen in the advertising poster below, residential and commercial blocks all over Canberra were released for purchase towards the end of 1924, some for as little as £350. Blocks along Empire Circuit cost around £400-470. The most expensive block advertised, on the corner of Wilmot and Tennyson Crescents, would set you back £470.

Blandfordia real estate poster, 1924.  Terms and conditions listed on the left-hand side. Locality map (bottom right) retains much of Walter Burley Griffin's original plan for Canberra, notably the geometric street designs and three distinct basins of the central lake.  Source: HMSS 0182 W. G. Woodger and Family Papers
Blandfordia real estate poster, 1924.
Terms and conditions listed on the left-hand side. Locality map (bottom right) retains much of Walter Burley Griffin's original plan for Canberra, notably the geometric street designs and three distinct basins of the central lake.
Source: HMSS 0182 W. G. Woodger and Family Papers 

The auction, held in a marquee on Capital Hill next to the Surveyors' Camp, was attended by around 300 people, a fifth of the population of Canberra. Run by Woodgers and Calthorpe Ltd, the auctioneer started the day by proclaiming; ‘No capital city in the world started with the same advantages in the way of water, light and sewerage as Canberra enjoyed,’ and that he hoped ‘figuratively speaking, that each of them would take away a piece of Canberra in his pocket.’

Houses under construction in Blandfordia, ca 1926. Source: #007871, Images ACT
Houses under construction in Blandfordia, ca 1926.
Source: #007871, Images ACT
And then the bidding commenced with lots in Eastlake (later known as Kingston), Manuka, Red Hill, Ainslie, Civic and Blandfordia (Forrest) going under the hammer. They proved very popular, selling for on average around half a thousand pounds, which far exceeded what was expected. The first business property was sold to J. B Young, a storekeeper in Queanbeyan. Starting at £650 ‘spirited bidding’ raised the price of the Eastlake property to £2,050. The first residential property went to H. F. Halloran for £400, and Mrs O’Hanolan became the first woman to purchase a lease in the ACT. One particular block sold to Thomas Shakespeare, who went on to use the premises to establish The Canberra Times. Woodgers and Calthorpe themselves bought property in Civic. The day was thought of as a considerably success. 

House at 75 Empire Circuit, Forrest, ca. 1926.  Source: #007192, Images ACT
House at 75 Empire Circuit, Forrest, ca. 1926.
Source: #007192, Images ACT

Land auctions remained a feature in Canberra over the next couple of years with demand remaining very high; one block measuring 20 feet by 108 feet went for £3500. Sometimes properties would go for three times more than the asking price. Woodgers and Calthorpe, as Canberra’s first real estate agency, played a vital role  in the growth and advocacy of the city and became very successful. They eventually sold the business to L. J. Hooker in 1959 with William Woodger continuing as director of that firm. J. B. Young's went on to become a successful and extensive department store chain. They operated on their Eastlake premises for around fifty years, before the business which was taken over by Grace Brothers in 1979.

J. B. Youngs, Kingston, decorated for the visit of the Duchess of York in May 1927.  Source: #008041, Images ACT
J. B. Youngs, Kingston, decorated for the visit of the Duchess of York in May 1927.
Source: #008041, Images ACT 

Like all properties in the ACT the blocks sold on that first day were 99-year Crown leases, which required the leasee to pay rent (starting at 5% of the unimproved value of the land) to the Commonwealth. This revenue was intended to fund the new city. However, the scheme was not a success and in 1971 Prime Minister John Gorton finally abolished land rent of leases.  The leases are due to expire in 2023, seven years from now. What happens next is still unknown, but it is assumed that the government will roll over the leases for another 99 years.

House at 33 Melbourne Avenue, Forrest, ca. 1926 Source: #007193, Images ACT
House at 33 Melbourne Avenue, Forrest, ca. 1926
Source: #007193, Images ACT

In today’s money[1], £400 would equal the moderate amount of of $36,640. According to real estate website Allhomes, blocks of land in theses suburbs today have an unimproved land value of a minimum of $652,000. A house on Tennyson Crescent was recently sold for $3,950,000. Demand for land and housing, is as ever, very high.

The papers of the Woodger family, including photographs and other documentation relating to land sales and the development of Canberra are available for reference from the ACT Heritage Library at HMSS 0182 Papers of W. G. Woodger and Family.



1924 'CANBERRA', Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer (NSW : 1915 - 1927), 16 December, p. 2. , viewed 26 Nov 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31658763

1967 'One of biggest industries', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 26 May, p. 16. , viewed 21 Nov 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131657153

 Curious Canberra, ABC. 2016. Can people own land in the ACT?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-04/can-people-own-land-in-the-act/7550166. [Accessed 26 November 2016].

 Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate. 2016. Leasehold. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.planning.act.gov.au/topics/buying,_selling_and_leasing_property/leases-and-licenses/leasehold . [Accessed 26 November 2016].

[1] Modern day prices were arrived at by using this website to convert 1924 currency into 2016 currency. It was assumed that the Australian pound and British pound were worth the same in 1924. That figure was then converted into modern Australian dollars.

18 November 2016

Board in Canberra?

With International Games Day  on Saturday 19th November, and the recent speculation about Canberra featuring on a new Monopoly board, we thought it was a good time to have a peek inside the ACT Heritage Library’s collection for some good old fashioned vintage games.

Playing cards featuring Old Parliament House, date unknown
Playing cards featuring Old Parliament House, date unknown

The simplest and most versatile of these are the playing cards featuring Old Parliament House. As those of us who have been to a gift shop recently know, playing card designers (whoever they are) love to feature iconic buildings, and these are no different. Printed and designed in Hong Kong these playing cards were probably aimed at the tourist market.

'Know Your Cities' jigsaw puzzle featuring Civic, ca 1970-1981
'Know Your Cities' jigsaw puzzle featuring Civic, ca 1970-1981
Another more educational initiative brought about the inclusion of Canberra in the first series on the  ABC of City Education ‘Know Your Cities’ jigsaw puzzle production, published by the UK-based Paul Hamlyn Group.

This jigsaw puzzle of several hundred pieces, shows an aerial photograph of the city. The photograph looks south across the lake and beyond and can be dated by the appearance of various landmarks. The National Carillion in the top left hand corner puts the picture after 1970, but the lack of construction on Capital Hill places it before 1981. Civic itself is much roomier than it is today – there are open air car parks and even single story buildings along Northbourne Avenue! The jigsaw puzzle is a snapshot in time that shows a city, not even fifty years ago, that looks remarkably different from the one it is today.

'Canberra Visitor: the Capital Board Game,' approximately 1978
'Canberra Visitor: the Capital Board Game,' approximately 1978

Another snapshot is provided  by ‘Canberra Visitor: the Capital Board Game,’ published around  1978, at a time when Belconnen Mall had the moderate claim to fame as the second largest regional shopping centre in the country – a fact proudly proclaimed by one of the 'Destination Cards' in the deck.

Players for this game select an itinerary and have to move around the board (a map of Canberra) to complete it as quickly as possible. Chance cards provide both setbacks and opportunities such as ‘A friendly student invites you to a jazz concert at the A.N.U. Union. Go straight there,’ and ‘One of ACTION’s articulated buses stops near you. Luckily the bus is going directly to one of the places you intend to visit. Go straight to that place.’ Designed ostensibly to educate players about Canberra, it also had the obvious additional benefit of promoting it as a destination.

Chance cards, 'Canberra Visitor' board game, approximately 1978.  Card reads 'Most usually it starts to rains. Shelter for a while. Miss one turn.'
Chance cards, 'Canberra Visitor' board game, approximately 1978.
Card reads 'Most usually it starts to rains. Shelter for a while. Miss one turn.'

Finally there is the ‘This is Your Capital: Canberra Game', a cross between Monopoly and ‘Canberra Visitor.’

Businesses and landmarks such as the Canberra Times, Telecom Tower, ADFA, Young’s, and even Woden Bus Interchange were all up for grabs.  Smaller businesses scattered round Canberra made it onto the board, like Continental Decorators, Flair Style Manuka Arcade, Sapphire Photo Processing, ACTCOM Computer Centre and Village Newsagency Hawker, many of which are now defunct. Aimed to promote Canberra businesses, it was created by the Canberra Association for Regional Development. The first player to buy twelve properties and return home safely wins.

'This is Your Capital: Canberra Game,' approximately 1985

Games like these ones reflect the changing fabric of society, from marketing Canberra as a tourist destination, to tracking the rise and fall of small businesses, to a providing an unintentional snapshot of the city fifty years ago.

But these games also provide a glimpse into how people, particularly friends and families, came together to spend their time. One example of this can be seen on the back of the Canberra jigsaw puzzle case where someone in the past forty-odd years penciled in a list of names, presumably those of the family who played the game. Different handwriting also warns about a missing puzzle piece. The simple, child-like handwriting shows that these games are not static, but worn in, well-loved dynamic pieces of our history.

To reflect this, some of these games are now available to be played during library hours. Just ask at the ACT Heritage Library. More details about all the games can be found through the Libraries ACT catalogue

08 November 2016

On this day in history a sudden death became a prophecy

On 8 November 1845 thirty-three year old Sarah Webb, nee Rolfe, tragically died during childbirth. During her lifetime she was a pioneer in the Canberra region, but it was her death, one hundred and seventy-one years ago, that catapulted her to fame.

Born in England around 1812, Sarah was only nine when she arrived in Sydney with her mother Elizabeth. They had sailed on the Duchess of York following in the wake of Elizabeth’s second husband, who had been sentenced to fourteen years transportation in New South Wales. Sarah quickly began work as a servant in Liverpool and later met convict George Webb. They married at St John’s Church of England, Parramatta in 1828, when Sarah was seventeen years old.

Lanyon Homestead and Murrumbidgee River from air, 1953
Lanyon Homestead and Murrumbidgee River from air, 1953
Image Source: ACT Heritage Library image 009688

That year, Sarah’s mother, Elizabeth, and stepfather, Timothy Beard, started work at Lanyon Homestead in the Limestone Plains, on the very limits of European occupation. There were already several other settlements in the region, including Robert Campbell at Duntroon and Joshua John Moore at Acton. Sarah and George, who had been granted his freedom in 1832, followed them shortly after with two small daughters in tow. Their third and fourth children were born soon after.
George was able to acquire a License to Depasture Stock in 1837. At a cost of £10 per year, they leased 2,560 acres across the river at the foot of the mountains, at a place called Tidbinbilly. That area was (and still is) a significant site for Aboriginal people and the Webbs were the first Europeans to settle there. Sarah was probably the first European womea to set foot west of the Murrumbidgee river. She gave birth to another four children at Tidbinbilly and together the family ran horses and cattle.
 Tidbinbilla valley and mountains, 1955
 Tidbinbilla valley and mountains, 1955
Despite the growing number of Europeans in the area there was still very limited infrastructure, and life would have been quite isolated. One Webb child, Caroline, died aged only five. Drought conditions prevailed and the Murrumbidgee stopped flowing for two years. Their horses strayed to the mountains and went wild. Supplies ordered from Sydney were often stolen by bush rangers, or even one time, by the driver himself.

Sadly, just as the drought was ending, tragedy struck again and Sarah died giving birth. The child did not survive either. The only local doctor (in the new town of Queanbeyan) was not able to attend, given the distance and state of the roads. Sarah left behind her husband George and remaining children; Eliza (14), George (11), Betsy (8), Joseph (7), William (4) and Charlotte (2), as well as her mother Elizabeth.
Headstone of Sarah Webb, ca. 1938
Headstone of Sarah Webb, ca. 1938
Image Source: HMSS 0151 Maurice Quinton Photographs
She was buried on 12th November at the newly consecrated Church of St John the Baptist. Hers was only the second headstone erected. The headstone, chosen by one of her sons, reads ‘For here we have no continuing city but seek one to come,’ a slightly inexact quote of Hebrews 13:14. The biblical passage refers to a heavenly city hoped for by believers.

Within a fewof decades after Sarah’s death it became apparent that the Limestone Plains was going to be the site of the future capital city. The quote on Sarah’s headstone started attracting notice, with many taking the passage to be a strange and coincidental prophecy of the coming city of Canberra. The prophetic tombstone or ‘Prophet’s Tombstone’ as it eventually was known, rather quickly, became a local landmark with travelers such as William Glover going out of their way to visit it. By 1949, church officials at St John’s were remarking that the location of the Prophet’s Tombstone was one of only two questions tourists asked when visiting the church.

St John's Church and churchyard, 1940s
St John's Church and churchyard, 1940s
Image Source: ACT Heritage Library images 005031

George Webb, who never remarried, died in 1868 and both he and Betsy were buried with Sarah.  The mountain range and valley on which the Tidbinbilly run stood was made into the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in 1967. Other place names, such as Mt Eliza and Webbs picnic area, also point to Sarah and her family.

The ACT Heritage Library has a number of publications related to the history of the Webb family, as well as the history of St John’s Church. Other early photographs of the prophetic tombstone can be found in ImagesACT.


1843 'Government Gazett', The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 October, p. 4. 

1848 'Claims to Leases of Crown Lands Beyond the Settled Districts', The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October, p. 3.
1949 'Prayer Essential in National Affairs', The Canberra Times, 3 October, p. 2. 

1950 'Lead to Canberra Seen in First Foundation', The Canberra Times, 15 May, p. 2.

1957 'Service Held In Memory Of George Webb', The Canberra Times , 11 February, p. 2. 

1992 'A prophetic epitaph?', The Canberra Times, 1 December, p. 8. 

Body, A. H. 1986, ‘Firm still you stand: the Anglican Church of St. John the baptist, Canberra, its parish and parishioners 1841-1984,' St John's Parish Council, Pirie Printers, Canberra

Lewis, C. 2012, ‘On the Back of two Sheep: A History of George Solomon Webb and his family pioneer settlers in the Tidbinbilly and Urayarra Runs,’ Bluestar Print, Canberra

St John's Canberra. 2016. St John's Churchyard. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.stjohnscanberra.org/st-johns-churchyard?lightbox=image_xi3