The following are recollections of Marion Walmsley March 2006 of her parents, Aurthur and Lillias:
“Lillias and Arthur had a very happy marriage. Both keen sense of humour and musically active. Played violin – actually met whilst playing in large orchestra in Sydney. Arthur blacksmith by trade, now I believe called fitter and turner. Was never out of work but worked part time during the depression years, they found it difficult to keep up mortgage payments, consequently lost their house after 10 years- then moved to another residence in Greenwich (Sydney’s north shore) renting always from then on until Marion’s husband generously bought them a home in Willoughby where they lived very happily until their eventual deaths. They occasionally went to see a good film and always to celebrity concerts at Sydney Town Hall and they heard soprano Joan Sutherland when she won her first competition and came home elated from the experience.
Both sang nicely together, Arthur had good deep baritone voice – both interested in gardening – mother always, Dad grew to enjoy it under mother’s directions.
Arthur had an easy going nature, could see no fault in anyone – everyone was a ‘good chap’. When my mother needed assistance after suffering strokes, Dad was her right hand man, was a good shopper – after he died Ruth and I were often surprised by local shop keepers coming to say how much they missed him and his bright friendly chats.”
In 2006, John’s daughter Sarah met one of her former co-workers who was living in Canberra where her husband was working under contract in telecommunications. This co-worker Marian Sagansky also worked in Canberra with a social service agency, Marion was one of the elderly clients she visited regularly. Marion was able to learn a little about our Canadian family from Marian and she took the above photograph for me before she left Canberra and returned to Canada at the end of the contract.
We did not hear of Marion’s death until the end of 2012, Peggy had sent her annual Christmas message to Marion and the staff at her former residence forwarded it to her son Stephen, a District Court Judge in Sydney. Stephen wrote to Peggy and enclosed a copy of the Eulogy he had given at Marion’s funeral. This eulogy has been included as it gives another glimpse of Arthur and his family life in Australia. There is a reference by Stephen of another eulogy by his brother Mark, unfortunately we did not get a copy of this document.
Eulogy: Marion Walmsley (nee Shorthouse) given by son Stephen.
Marion Walmsley was born on 30/9/18, a little over a month before Armistice Day and she died last Tuesday, in her 93rd year, just 3 months after Germany had made the last reparations payment under the Versailles Treaty.
So it was a long life. No one could say she did not use her time well, or that she did not use it for the good of others.
Her parents burdened her with the first name of Enid, a name she disliked, and she always adopted her middle name of Marion, She was born in Sydney and grew up on the lower north shore. Her primary schooling was at Greenwich Primary, and her secondary schooling was at Chatswood Girls High. Her parents were of modest means. Her father was a blacksmith, or fitter and turner, and her mother never worked. They only once in their joint lives together owned one house, a house in Artarmon which they lost in the depression when they could not meet the mortgage payments. So the family, being tenants, moved quite a lot, but they mainly lived in Greenwich or Artarmon, Marion left school at l5 and worked at various occupations, initially dressmaking, later (though she did not stick to it) nursing, and finally in the clerical field. Her favourite job ever when she was young was a clerical job with radio 2CH, then owned by the church with which she has been so closely associated all her life. She would take friends, including my father, up the lift to the top of the AWA tower in Sydney, from which the radio station sent its broadcasts.
Her parents were violinists and she had the musical gene. She had piano and singing lessons when she was in her late teens. She had a fine soprano voice and later sang in the 2CH choir, which would at times sing live to air. At times too she would sing solos live to air. I have inherited several scratchy 78’s with some examples.
Marion met my father in Sydney during WW2. They were married in 1945. When he was discharged from the army, she left her parent’s home and went to live with him on the Yass River, at Milford, the property where my father and his sister and most of his six brothers had grown up. Over the next 25 years Marion lived at Milford and had me, then Faye, then Mark. She reminded my cousin Nola recently that when she was first introduced to one of Dad’s relatives in Yass, some expressed doubts about her ability to cope with country life. But one, who she was ever afterwards recalled with affection, said to her “There’s always the exception. She’s a very sensible girl.”
Like everything else she did in her life Marion took to life on the land in a thorough and organised way and saw only the good in it. Her father had never had a car and she had never driven. She quickly learned to drive a car and later, at times, she took the wheel of a 3 ton Bedford truck, or the Fordson tractor.
There were inconveniences she had to deal with on the farm. One of them was the brown snake. It was not uncommon for snakes to come into the garden. My father had taught her how to shoot. Usually she used a single action .22 rifle. She was a good shot and occasionally shot ducks. But on the day the brown snake came she used the 12 gauge shotgun. She demolished the snake and some of the concrete path. Her shoulder got quite a jolt. My father then bought her a .410, a much lighter gun, which I have always thought of as a ladies gun.
Marion took her passion for music to Yass and joined the musical society and participated in many musical productions in Yass, including the Mikado. I did not really appreciate this at the time and thought it a bit uncool to be seen at these things but she took us to the occasional operatic production such as Rigoletto, put on by professional groups, when they came to the Yass Memorial Hall. Marion was often asked to sing at weddings and other functions. She ensured us kids all learnt music too and in a moment Mark will say something about her musical life.
Marion played a role in church activities at the country church we went to each month, the Mundoonen Church, on the Yass River Road. Later, when she moved to Canberra, she took an active interest in the affairs of St Margarets, where she was an elder, and where she made many lifelong friends, all of whom have been particularly kind to her in recent years as she has been less independent.
Marion at one stage became active in branch level politics, advancing to secretary of the Yass branch of the Country Party. In that role she played a part in selection of candidates at state and federal levels. She was delighted on one occasion when a local councillor, a grazier and shearer who lived close to us, was defeated for election by one vote. She had always voted for him but this time she voted against him because he had opposed bituminising of the Yass River Road and had been quite ungracious to her when he failed to be selected for pre selection for the state seat of Burrinjuck.
Marion was always conservative in her political allegiances. She confessed to me recently that she quite liked Julia Gillard but hastened to say that of course she would never vote for her. She was always a canny investor, and even in the last couple of months was giving me advice about shares and real estate, and taking an interest in the fortunes of a company in which she still had shares when she died.
Marion was an active farmer’s wife. She would cook an excellent meal for a shearing shed full of workers. This activity would perhaps last several weeks at a time and she would keep it up for 3 meals a day. While her part in shearing was mostly in the kitchen, after lambing time she would sometimes help my father hold the lambs while they were being tailed and earmarked. I do not recall her killing a sheep, but it was common for her to take the heads off chickens and pluck and clean them. She was always a keen horse rider, having ridden as a young woman, but as a farmer’s wife she would also ride on the farm and had her own horse. She liked fishing and would fish for and often catch trout in the Yass River, although it has to be said she was sometimes guilty of putting in set lines and using live bait.
She was an artist. She had art lessons when she moved to Canberra. She had talent, and her works, oils and watercolours, are in the homes of various friends and relatives.
As a mother and friend she had great wisdom and a great deal of love. It will not have escaped the attention of those who knew her that she was a most assertive human being. But unlike many assertive people, she used her assertiveness with tact and charm. And so she was about the best negotiator I have seen in action. Although she had less education than many, she was highly literate. That, combined with her assertiveness, led to many letters to the editor about topics that interested or annoyed her. She once wrote to the Womens Weekly complaining about the stupidity of the way fashion models deported themselves when posing for photographs. She wrote articles about country living. Most of her letters to the editor and a number of her articles, were published.
She was a keen entertainer. My cousin Nola has reminded that she and other cousins enjoyed coming to visit, and she recalled her patience with and affection for children and her home cooking and her sense of humour, and love of a joke and a laugh.
In the early seventies Marion and my father moved to live in Canberra. She had a number of jobs in the Commonwealth Public Service, ending at the Dickson library. As you will have gathered if you had not known, her interests were eclectic. At one stage she went into business, buying a hairdressing salon in Watson. She ran it for several years and although her great generosity meant some friends got freebies, she was so popular that she built up the goodwill so was able to sell the salon at a substantial profit.
All of her life Marion fought for others… us as kids, and our father in his rural endeavours, people she befriended, lame ducks, and the not so lame, people who needed someone to speak up for them, including people she met quite recently at Goodwin House. She would have been a ruthless trade unionist. She always had a keen sense of rightness of equal rights for women. In the late seventies she spent some of the spare time she had to work as a volunteer at Canberra’s first womens’ refuge, located perhaps inappropriately, at Adam Place Watson. On one occasion she was so incensed on behalf of a female friend whose husband had given her friend an extension ladder for her birthday, that she said to the husband “Why didn’t you give her an axe?”
Marion was a special human being. She touched all who came in contact with her. When she was 61 she suffered the misfortune of losing a child, my sister Faye, and lived another 31 years, waking up with that memory every day. And yet she kept a sense of humour to the end. She was greatly loved and admired. I will miss her.
Eulogy: Marion Walmsley (nee Shorthouse) given by son Mark.
As Stephen said, I’d like to talk about mum’s musical life and the music genes that run so strongly through the family. When she was in Calvary Hospital recently, at times not quite herself, she wanted to know where her parents Arthur and Lilias were. They both played violin at a symphony rehearsal and met waiting for a North Shore ferry. My cousin Ailsa tells me that Arthur was an extroverted musician who would dance around the room playing a jig and could play any tune he heard on the wireless. Music changed his life… it helped him escape a life down the mines in the north of England. He saved all the money he earned teaching violin to village children to come to Australia as a young man. Lilias was a far better sight-reader and a more serious musician. One of her sisters was a concert pianist who took lessons from a teacher, who coincidentally lived at my exact address now. There was always music in that house and Arthur taught Mum to sing many of the popular songs of the 1920s, which she would sometimes perform standing on a chair in front of her classmates at age 5. The teachers would often have to stifle a laugh when she’d sing risqué songs of the era such as ‘Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy’.
Later, she was known to get up early to practise vocal scales before school, much to the irritation of a neighbour who would throw things at her window. Over her life she performed hundreds of solos at weddings and concerts and, as Stephen mentioned, made recordings. As child I was interested when she received calls to sing at country weddings, because some days later we would receive an invitation to attend. I would always win the competition at school for who had been to the most weddings.
Music, in fact, brought our parents together. Mum was involved in organising dances for service personnel during the War and it was at one of these that they met. She told me of her surprise at knowing, absolutely, during their first dance that she ‘could marry this one’.
As with everything else, Mum also had definite views about music. It was made perfectly clear that ‘Fur Elise’ was never to be heard in our house. I suspect that Mum even went so far as to instruct my piano teacher Sister Anne not to teach it to me. Yesterday I may have finally found out why… when Stephen told me it was the pinnacle of his piano repertoire and he continued to play it for years after he’d finished lessons with Miss Carpenter. As a child whenever we went to a concert I always tried to sit between Mum and my sister Faye in an attempt to stop them looking at each other in case a singer failed to meet Mum’s exacting standards. If a vocalist had a particularly fruity tone or a big vibrato, it only took one glance between them to set off fits of giggles.
Mum encouraged all of us to love music, as it had been such a happy part of her own life. She even made sure it would be part of her farewell today. When I opened her Bible during the week, I found a very clear outline of today’s Order of Service – she had selected all the hymns and the solo you are about to hear.
I would like to finish with the words of a song Mum taught me when I was 3 years old, sitting on the kitchen floor at Milford. I sang it to her last Sunday:
If I should plant a tiny seed of love in the garden of your heart
Would it grow to be a great big love some day or would it die and fade away?
Would you care for it and tend it every day till the time when we must part?
If I should plant a tiny seed of love in the garden of your heart.
Email from Mark Walmsley to John Robinson August 19th, 2017.
I’ve attached my short eulogy to mum. The following links are for two websites that represent some of my musical endeavours.
I have been a professional musician since I left an Australian Public Service job in 1982. I am completely untrained except for a few years of piano lessons. I promised mum that I would take a year off when I left school before returning to study at A.N.U. (but never did!). At first I played keyboards in rock bands and music duos in all types of venues. Later, I began playing for society functions in Sydney and especially Jewish parties.
My ongoing interest in recording, technology and composing eventually led me to producing albums for other people. I have made over 100 albums (many for the Australian Broadcasting Commission). More recently I have composed music for numerous TV shows and theatre performances.
If you send me your postal address I will send you a copy of an album I made of personal songs that may be of some interest!