It’s a Furphy

“Furphy” is such a wonderful word ….. and it’s origins in the Australian lexicon have always intrigued me.

A furphy is Australian slang for an erroneous or improbable story that is claimed to be factual. Furphies are supposedly ‘heard’ from reputable sources, sometimes secondhand or third hand, and widely believed until discounted. The word is said to derive from water carts designed and made by a company established by John Furphy of J. Furphy & Sons of Shepparton, Victoria. The steel and cast iron tanks were first made in the 1880s and were used on farms and by stock agents.  Many Furphy water carts were used to take water to Australian Army personnel during World War I in Australia, Europe and the Middle East. The carts, with “J. Furphy & Sons” written on their tanks, became popular as gathering places where soldiers could exchange gossip, rumours and fanciful tales – much like today’s water cooler discussion. (Wikipedia)

I had, through my interest in classic and historic cars, come across the Furphy water cart in the past.  Having seen the heavy cast circular ends with the name clearly emblazoned at swap meets and clearing sales, I had not made the connection between obsolete colloquial language, engineering, farm machinery and books.

That was, until the name surfaced in a family line I was researching for a friend.  Was there a connection? Did the Furphy family I had stumbled across in Western Australia have anything to do with the Furphy water cart?

Reading up on the Furphy water cart and its origins in Victoria,  it still seemed strange that I had this Furphy connection in Western Australia.  It was one of those rabbit holes I just had to dive down and try and unpick…. especially as, in researching my family of interest, I came across the grave of the great great aunt Boleyn (nee Balcam) I was tracking and here she was, buried in Karrakatta Cemetery in a grave named FURPHY!

This Balcam family was a family that had started out in the Channel Islands, migrating to Victoria in the 1860’s and, in this case, finally fetching up on the other side of the continent in Western Australia. Mrs Boleyn didn’t have a big family – she had married in 1866 in Victoria and her husband died there in 1880.  Of her seven children, two died as infants and another predeceased her.  With the exception of her daughter Emily, the remaining children stayed in Victoria.

Emily married Felix Ernest Furphy in 1893 and by 1903, had 5 children all born in the Shepparton/Mooroopna area of Victoria.  For reasons that seemed inexplicable at this point, some time between 1903 and 1915,  Emily and Felix,  together with their four surviving children and Mrs Boleyn, made the trip to WA and settled there. Mrs Boleyn already had family in Western Australia as her sister, brother-in-law and their children had already relocated their family west some 10 years earlier.

Emily buried her mother and husband Felix three years apart in the same grave.

The Furphy family were just begging for a little scratching under the surface to see if there was any connection – nothing like a distraction from the task at hand! Some basic investigation in the Victorian Births Deaths and Marriages Indexes revealed Felix’s parentage: Joseph Furphy and Leonie Selina (or Celine) Germain.  Discovering this, I tried to find death registrations in Victoria for these two – no luck!  Imagine my surprise to discover that both parents could be found on the WA Death index – did Joseph and Leonie move interstate to join their son and his family or was it the other way round?

The next question was to find out whether Joseph was connected to the Furphy Water cart family or not…..

Trove to the rescue:

FURPHY.—On September 13, at Claremont, suddenly, Joseph Furphy, late of Shepparton, Victoria, beloved father of Felix, Sylvia, and Sam. Interment private.
And then there was more to the story that started to help put the pieces in place:
“Tom Collins,” whose franchise name was Joseph Furphy, was a “Bulletin” writer who died in 1913, and now a selection of his verses has been issued in book form, with an interesting preface, by Mr. Bernard O’Dowd. Furphy was an Irishman born of Methodist parents, but in Australia he took a
more cosmopolite view of human affairs and destiny, so that his writings assumed a wider outlook than his early
environment favored. Some years ago he published a book, “Such Is Life,” which Mr. O’Dowd describes as remarkable. Without going so far, we may say it was well reviewed, and is
worthy of survival. The present collection of verses is not poetry, however. It contains good facile rhyming and is easy reading: The best thing in it is undoubtedly ”Brahm,” as the author’s sponsor says, and is better than a lot of stuff that appears in
anthologies of alleged Australian verse.
Mr. Furphy came to W.A. in his later years and lived at Claremont, where he died. His mother, aged 98, is still
living with his widow, and his two sons, Felix and Sam, are proprietors of a foundry at Fremantle.
It was looking very much like I had a connection – the comment at the end of the piece was the clincher  as”…are proprietors of a foundry at Fremantle” sounded as if ironmongery and those water carts were, in fact, all in the family! And this was further confirmed by a comment in this article written in 1949:
Sons Come West.
Furphy’s daughter had been settled in W.A. with her husband
for a year or two before hard times in Shepparton decided her
brothers, Felix and Sam Furphy, to try their luck in the West, then booming. In 1903 they landed at Albany with some idea of staying there. Instead they came to Perth, immediately secured jobs at Hoskin’s Foundry, and sent back to Victoria for their wives to follow. The jobs did not last long. The young men saw an opening in Fremantle; and in less than no time had their own foundry established. Furphy Bros. soon built a reputation that it still enjoys.
Why write about this family now?  I was prompted to revisit this story by an article that had appeared in the paper over the weekend – and, like the niggle that insisted I trace the possibility of a connection, the article lit that little fire! There’s to be a national short story competition – and what better time to tell a little story of my own.
To honour the author of Such is Life, and “the furphy” that was born of the water cart, the family will launch a national short story prize, breathing fresh life into the tradition of yarn-spinning – either fact or fiction – that Joseph and his contemporaries Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson made a part of Australian life.

The Stinson Memorial Project

The project to build a memorial site on the Burke and Wills Track at Mia Mia, Victoria, commemorating the loss of ten lives in this aircraft crash has taken a few steps forward in recent months.

Witnesses have told their stories, grant applications have been lodged, more site inspections undertaken with the Mayor and staff from the Shire of Mitchell, interviews given to regional radio and the latest development is the launch of a Facebook Page.

The 75th Anniversary of the crash approaches fast – 31st January 2020 will see the unveiling and dedication of the memorial including a ceremonial flypast by members of the Kyneton Aero Club.

Why would we consider a Facebook Page? It’s just one of the ways we are hoping to connect with relatives and interested friends and to keep them apprised of our progress, acknowledge our supporters and to give individuals a means by which they can make personal donations to support the project. There is no guarantee that our grant applications will be successful and there is only so much the ‘in kind’ donations can cover so alternative avenues of funding are critical.

The Stinson in its original configuration. In Australia, they were modified to have two higher powered engines. The plane that crashed was the daily flight between Melbourne and Broken Hill.

If you are interested in the progress of this project, we would be delighted to have you join us on the Facebook page where we will endeavour to keep you up to date with our progress.  If you would care to contribute to the project in any way, please contact us via email (see the address on the page) or make a donation via the bank details in the ABOUT section of the page.

Other information about the early stages of this project can be seen here.

Making life easier….

Over the last few weeks I have undertaken the beginning of a genealogy make over – the study floor has been covered with all the detritus of years of research… printed pages, certificates, family group sheets, census records and electoral rolls; the list could go on and on.


I’ve discovered that I’m not all that good at building collections of bookmarks for the common search sites I use.  I have some reference lists but not all the various places I have found over time.  I rely on memory as to how to find a particular site or group of sites and head off into the unknown.  Sometimes this can be a blessing and, sometimes, a curse. I know its in there somewhere but no matter how I string the search terms together, it won’t appear!

I was delighted to find a note in my Twitter feed from the SuperGenie, Jill Ball (aka GeniAus)  where she had commented on the need for a ‘collection’ of all the sites where its possible to search online for your buried or cremated folk in Australia.

She has bravely undertaken to build a website collating all the online sources for searching for those that are now six feet under down under, hence the title of her new site: Six Feet Under Downunder

The site is currently under construction but is open to offers of suggestions for additions to the site.  Email suggestions for additions to Jill – she would love to hear from you.

Oh… and the progress on the makeover?  I have reduced that mess to 10 Binders – which works out to be over 250 family groups over 6 generations of just one family line.  There are still 7 other lines to complete!


Why do we Conference?

I made a comment to a fellow researcher that I would be attending the VAFHO conference in Colac, Vic., in October.  She asked “Why? Do you have family in Colac?”

I don’t have any living family in Colac (that I’m aware of) however there were a few distant connections that resided permanently in the local cemetery so I thought I’d go visit, photograph, fill in a few gaps and whilst I was at it, find out a bit more about Writing Non-Boring Family History with the wonderful Hazel Edwards. Besides, I needed a bit of a break.

I had few expectations of the weekend except that I could indulge my passion for family research without deliberately boring anyone else to death. What a fabulous weekend it turned out to be!

Friday’s trip down was going to be at least 2 1/2hrs driving – I love long distance country driving and this was fun.  No-one else much on the back roads, pleasant temperatures and some spectacular scenery. Of course there needed to be the odd diversion – so it was off to find the cemetery at Rokewood and to check in with the great great grandparents William Henry Dawkins and Mary Ann Considine.

Rokewood Cemetery has a Pioneers Section and in 1993 a family reunion was organised and a commemorative plaque erected by the descendants.  William and Mary Ann have been joined by quite a few more in the Pioneer Section over the years since that reunion.

Colac Family History Group, members of VAFHO, were hosting this weekend’s activities and the first part of the event was a seminar with Hazel Edwards on writing Family History.  This 3 hour session was just fantastic – Hazel had us talking, writing, laughing, planning, motivated and resolving to get started as soon as we could.  No more procrastination, just great writing!

What did I come away with from this event?  Two new friends one of whom, it transpires, was distantly connected by marriage.  Neither of us had any idea that there was a link however we discovered over the course of the weekend our familial connection whilst asking questions of each other, helping solve each other’s mysteries, enjoying a shared meal or two and searching around those rows of gravestones for further clues.

The Colac Family History Group members were welcoming, enthusiastic and willing to share their love of their region and its history.  Who knew that Colac was famous for growing onions and had its own rail line devoted to ensuring those onions made it quickly to the city markets? I certainly didn’t. I came away with some great images of the landscape coupled with a better understanding of how the area was developed and thus how my family members fitted into that environment.  I discovered more family than I knew about previously, found their final resting places and I now know how to find where they worked the land they were granted.

This is why we conference.

To make new connections, to share what we know, learn about what we don’t know, to reconnect with old friends, to enjoy the company of fellow travellers on the road to understanding ourselves by understanding the dynamics of our ancestors’ lives.

Charles Clinton Dawkins (1stC2R) remembered in Colac Cemetery.




Another round of classes

Not content with currently studying two units of the UTAS Diploma of Family History, I decided to sign up for a MOOC. What’s a MOOC?
A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course – you can search for and take part in free online courses offered by Universities all over the world by looking here. What a great way to learn about something new!


And just what did I decide to study?  Preventing Dementia.  This is a MOOC offered by UTAS and its an area I have wanted to investigate and learn about.  There’s a unit to do with Dementia offered in the degree I’m enrolled in that I had considered taking on this semester but chose to leave it until next year by which time I would have just about finished the Family History course. In the meantime, it seemed like a good idea to take this short unit and bring myself up to speed on all things demented before I launched into the other unit.

MOOCs are a great way to break into study as an adult – no fees, no exams, no stress and a supportive international student cohort who are all in the same place as you.  Learning to navigate the delivery of the MOOC subject matter through UTAS is also a great way to learn their  formal online study delivery system without the pressure of passing or failing hanging over you.

My local neighbourhood centre has invited me back to facilitate a second round of Family History classes – so not only am I knee deep in learning, I’ll be sharing those skills with others as well.  If you’re a Central Victorian and want to get started on your own research, there are just a couple places left in this 4 week class that begins in August. Enrol here.

The neighbourhood centre has a computer lab and a library subscription to so you don’t even need to have a computer to be able to get started – the centre is a GoDigi partner and have mentors in place for people wanting some IT guidance and support.

Teaching and Troving

It is a pleasure to share the adventure of researching Family History and, over the last four weeks, I have been sowing the seeds of what is likely to be a lifelong addiction for the students attending the course I am teaching.

In this Beginners Course, we are learning about research skills, learning how to avoid some of the pitfalls, how to be discriminating about those wonderful family legends and how to keep all that you find in the safest and most organised of manners possible.

Most importantly, we have discovered the human impact of probing into the past. I could see that not everyone thought it was relevant to be cautious about with whom they shared their most recent exciting discovery. I could warn them of the possibility that someone was likely to get upset if a long held belief was overturned or family secret uncovered and published. It was impossible to ensure that they heeded the message.

It is easy to assume that an official document like a birth, marriage or death certificate will be of all things accurate.  After all, its the official record, it will be right, surely?

I had shared my own experience of arriving at the church to find all the documents I was asked to sign had my surname spelled incorrectly.  I can recall quite clearly Canon Holt telling me I was going to be fashionably late whilst he rewrote all the paperwork – it seems I would not have been legally married if he had gone ahead with the wrong name on the certificate! My students humoured me…. but they took a second look at their own paperwork.  Imagine the surprise when one discovered that she too had a marriage certificate with her given name incorrect – she had been married for over 40 years and had never noticed!

Their heads bent over the certificates and, with fresh eyes, they looked for all those little clues that could lead to a new line of inquiry. They discovered how the details given on any certificate could be incorrect, or that information could have been missed.  They learned that death certificates could provide clues but not all the answers they sought.

But what could they do to uncover details of family comings and goings, funerals and financial scandals, deaths and deliveries, if these events occurred within the embargoed periods where state held information was protected by Privacy Acts?

This is where TROVE and the combined resources of the National Library of Australia and all the state libraries comes in.  The digitised newspaper collections accessible through TROVE can offer up all sorts of wonderful insights into the events of the day.

How wonderful is it to be able to browse the pages of the local newspaper and find the report of the wedding of your grandparents detailing the gowns, the gifts and even the grub served at the wedding breakfast?   Or perhaps a social event they attended in the weeks leading up to their wedding?

Recently, it was announced that funding cuts to the NLA would be applied to TROVE, jeopardising this world class resource and service beloved by historians, researchers, students and family historians alike.

The response was immediate – a Facebook page sprang into life, the Twitterverse went into overdrive #fundTrove and its making the news: ABC News

Trove is part of the future for research… its going to be vital in the making of this ‘clever country‘ as it is already to the many thousands who have already discovered its abundant treasures.  Why would anyone think it was a good idea to take funding away from the very place it needs to be if we are to become world leaders as smart, inventive and scholarly people?  The very nature of Trove in itself is world class – why would we settle for second best?

Support the campaign to restore and extend the funding to the NLA. Sign a Petition, write to your local Federal MP, blog about it, tweet about it, talk about it. Become part of the community that learns from and helps to build the resource that is TROVE for future generations of students, teachers, researchers and all round clever people!


Searching for Signatures

Today’s Melbourne paper “The Age” carries an article by Bridie Smith about a 19th Century signature quilt.

You can read the article here.

The challenge for conservators is to identify all the people whose names appear on the quilt.  What a challenge for the geniesleuths amongst us!  Who wouldn’t want to take up the challenge of identifying those mysterious donors and the story of this wonderful work of art and its fundraising background.

The National Museum of Australia has already begun some of the research but now needs the help of the public in order to identify some of the donors.  As we are all no doubt aware, not everyone pops up in the Australian Dictionary of Biography as a potential source! Check out the research progress here.

Signature quilts and quilts with signatures worked into them, like the Victorian era Crazy Quilts, are the most wonderful source of family history.  Signature quilts were, as described by the NMA, often used as a means to fund raise for specific purposes.  They were sometimes known as shilling quilts – as that was the price to ‘buy’ your space for your name to appear.

Shilling quilts were used by Red Cross groups to raise funds to support the work of the Red Cross during World War 1.  I believe there is one such quilt in the hands of a local historical society in Melbourne but at the time of writing was unable to confirm this.

Perhaps the most well known signature quilts are in the possession of the Australian War Memorial – I refer, of course, to the Changi Quilts created during WW2 by women prisoners in held Changi Prison – the history of these quilts can be read here.


This is just one of the blocks created in the Australian Changi Quilt – all the blocks and the complete quilt can be viewed on the AWM website along with transcriptions and descriptions of each individual block.

When a quilt of this nature is held in a public institution, it becomes something more than its initial purpose.  Quilts such as these have become, in effect, memorials to those people whose names appear on them.  They no longer fulfill the goal of fundraising, having done their duty in this role at the time the quilt was created.  They no longer offer a distraction from the horrors and boredom of prolonged incarceration as this time has passed.  They do, however, provide us with some small insight into the lives, aspirations and conditions in society at the time they were created.

A quilt such as that which is currently being studied and researched by the curators at NMA tells us something of society in Melbourne and Sunbury at the time of its creation.  It is also a reflection of the skills of the women who created it and these are quite possibly not the names recorded thereon.  Yet this quilt stands testament to their devotion to church and community.

Do you have quilts in your family treasures collection? These wonderful objects conceal stories about which we can only guess, especially those in the hands of family members treasured as often all is known is that great great grandmother bought the quilt with her on the journey from England or Ireland in the 1800’s, or from Scotland early last century. There are some families who treasure their Scandanavian and German pieces, others who have American made quilts acquired whilst their ancestors followed the gold from California to Ballarat and beyond.

Embroidery Sampler originally brought to Australia by Lucy Jane Dixon (nee Banks)
Embroidery Sampler originally brought to Australia by Lucy Jane Dixon (nee Banks)

I am lucky enough to have pieces of embroidery and a lace veil that made the journey from Liverpool to New Zealand in the 1870’s and then on to Australia in the 1880’s.

Not all signature pieces are quilts…. cushions, tea cosies, piano covers all appeared at times during the Crazy patchwork fashion period. This lovely example is still a mystery:

Crazy Patch Tea Cosy Side 1    Crazy Patchwork Tea Cosy side 2

Front and reverse of a Crazy Patchwork Tea Cosy made in velvets, silks, cottons and other fabrics dated 1899. As all the initial sets end in R, it is reasonable to assume this has been made by a family group or is intended to record a family.