26 October 2011

David Unaipon

David Unaipon in the late 1920s
(see Wikipedia)
One of the challenges with George's letters is getting through the density of information and trying to make sense of all the names.

Another challenge for me is that I'm not Australian, so I can easily miss some cultural references.

For instance, in Letter No. 12, I totally overlooked a reference about one of the residents living in the YMCA.
"You will remember David Unaipon, the aboriginal who has been living in the building. We have had a splendid lot of service from him in addressing groups of our members. Hundreds of them have been told the story of aboriginal life in the Northern part of South Australia."
It turns out that, according to Wikipedia, David Unaipon was "a preacher, inventor and writer. He was the most widely known Aboriginal in Australia, and broke stereotypes of Aboriginals. Unaipon is featured on the Australian $50 note in commemoration."

David Unaipon on Australia's $50 note.
(see Reserve Bank of Australia)
I only figured it out after reading ahead in George's letters and seeing a reference on 28 Dec 1931 when George mentions that he is sending "Uniapon's book on 'Aboriginal Legends'" to Noel.

Makes me wonder what other gems I'm missing. Should I be Googling every name that George drops? Perhaps.

No. 14 -- 12 Sept 1931

Mr. N.A. Hughes,
C/o Y.M.C.A. College
5315 Drexel Avenue,

My dear Noel,

I expect there will be a letter arriving on Monday from you, but in view of the fact that the mail closes in the early afternoon and I shall be engaged the whole of Monday morning  with the staff conference, I have decided to write to you this morning. It would have been nice if we could have answered any of the matters that may come to us in your letter, but I am afraid that will have to wait now until the next mail.

All the folk at home are well. Most of the colds that they had have gone. Ruth had a very heavy cold and it surprised me how she managed to keep going in her job, but she has managed to throw it off and seems to be in pretty good form just now. She is just as interested in her nursing as ever and I have no doubt in my own mind that she will be able to stand up to the exacting nature of her work.

Mother is also keeping very well, and the kiddies likewise. Keith expects to get a job again with the Wheat Commission and is hoping that he will be able to get into the forwarding and shipping end of the work as that lasts longer then the receiving section.

You will be surprised to hear that Keith received the Cup for the highest batting average in the cricket team for which he played last season. I think he was as much surprised as anybody else. It is a very neat little cup and now adorns the over-mantle in the drawing room.

By the way, I am enclosing the letter from Mr. Fred. Hartnell, Secretary of the Melbourne Rotary Club in Chicago. I am hoping that you will be able to deliver this letter in person and perhaps the folk there may be able to show you some little courtesy.

We also had a letter from May Glover in which she mentioned that they had made arrangements for a certain room for you at the college and that they hoped to be seeing you shortly. They seem to have had a particularly happy time at the Minneapolis Boys' Camp at Lake Independence, Loretto.

John Cook also wrote by this mail. He has had a particularly bad run of illness for some months past. He was hoping that you might keep in touch with him by an occasional letter.

We had a notice from the Lands Department advising us that noxious weeds were growing on the two sections at Burwood, and we were informed that unless the weeds were dealt with in the next three weeks, we would be fined. Keith went up yesterday to investigate the reason for the notice and discovered that there is a great deal of gorse on his section, but your section was fairly clear of it. A pal and he will be going up to the land next week with axes and slashers so as to destroy the gorse. A little later on it will be burned after it has had a chance to dry out. Talking of the lands reminds me that we have received a bill from Messrs. Maddock, Jamieson & Lonie for £3:19:0 being costs of the agreement and Caviat on you account and £2:5:0 on Keith's account. I suppose we did the right think in lodging the Caviat in case of any trouble that T.M. Burke's company may get into. I will pay the account a little later on.

Rex has been away for the past fortnight attending to some talkie installations in the country. We thought he would have returned before this. We have not heard any word from him and expect he will come back to the city this weekend.

You will be interested to hear that Harold Thompson who does the cinema work for the Vikings has been urging the Vikings Club to purchase your amplifier, so that talkie performances can be put on at the Association Building. Ern. Gollan is giving the matter some through and we will bring the machine in for them to try it out at a show they are having next weeks. I do not know whether they will be able to purchase it or not. In any case they will not be in a position  to pay spot cash for it. However, we will do our best with them if they feel to buy the machine. I am getting concerned at our inability to dispose of it as the winter is practically gone, and we may not get the same chance of selling it during the summer months. there is not likely to be the same measure of demand.

This afternoon we are to have a visit from the Ballarat YMCA and expect about 20 to 25 men in the party. We shall have tea together in the Lounge Dining Room, after which there will be matches in billiards, volleyball, basketball, etc. This is one of the attempts to bring about closer relationship between the country Associations and our own. In a week or two, a group of our boys will be visiting Ballarat Association for competition purposes.

By the way, the Queen Carnival is moving along quite nicely and is gathering momentum and interest. I have looked at the figures on the score board and notice that Kath. Lilford is leading with 3079 votes, Lil. Langham second with 2319, and Miss Davis of the juniors, third with 1990 votes. I must say that  we are very pleased with the way our members are responding to this Queen Carnival competition. the Interest has been splendid and a great number of functions has been arranged by each of the committees. We are closing the competition on October 8th, when we will have taken Wirth's Olympia for the crowning ceremony. We are planning a very big gathering with an excellent programme. If this is properly worked we should get a full hall, as the interest should be good. The first part of the programme is likely to be a demonstration of our work by a grand parade of practically all our clubs and classes. We expect to have the help of one or two choirs, brass band, etc. The crowning ceremony is staged on quite an elaborate plan, and I think we shall have an evening of considerable interest and enjoyment. Arrangements have already been made for costumes for each of the queens and we think the ceremony should have some beautiful effects.

The staff men who were ill, have all returned to their jobs. Alf. Hines' leg is still causing him to limp, but I think it will be quite well again within the next week or so. Bob Way still has some pain from his rheumatics, but he is on the job and getting steadily better. Matron has had a number of her teeth out  and she is not feeling too good as the result of the extractions.

The South Hawthorn Presbyterian Church decided to do without a sale of work this year, and on Tuesday last some of the members of the session, with the Minister, were in attendance at the Church building all day, to receive the gifts of the congregation. A sum of over £70 was subscribed by direct giving. This was an excellent result for such a small church.

Mr. Baird has enquired on several occasions concerning yourself, and we have passed on any information we have had regarding your movements.

We are still finding the financial position pretty difficult in the Association. I think we shall have to face further economies as we cannot hope to continue the losses we are making each month.

This letter should reach you just as you are getting into the collar of your studies. There will be many strange experiences come to you int he next few weeks and you may find it somewhat difficult to set your mind to the steady routine demanded by college life. So many new impressions will be crowding in upon you, all of which have a very disturbing effect. The newness of college life too, will mean that you will require to make a great deal of readjustment in your ordinary habits. I can only express the hope that you will take things as philosophically as possible, and determine to give your best thought to the work immediately in hand.

I am hoping too, that you may have had success in meeting all the requirements of college entrance examination. To start your work without arrears of studies, will mean a great deal to you, but even if you have to make up certain subjects, it is astonishing how quickly the can be disposed of if they are tackled resolutely and with a determination to win out.

I repeat what I have tried to say in other letters, that whatever success you may achieve in your studies, the important thing is that you should recognise that the work of the Association is primarily that of religious leadership. Cultivate a close relationship with Christ through your private study of His word and prayer and service.

We all unite in love to you,
Yours affectionately,

12 October 2011

Missing Noel and other tidbits

George never comes out and says that he misses Noel, but he has written 13 letters so far, even though he has only received five back from Noel. That's 40 type-written pages of letters chocked full of advice and news. He monitors the mail ship arrivals and departures very closely, and even when he says he doesn't have much news to pass along, he can still fill three or four pages.

As he says: "We have had several mails leaving at pretty close intervals recently, consequently you have received I think in all about four letters from me this month."

It must have been very frustrating that this was the only way he could be part of Noel's life right now.

Gymnastic Circus

In letter No. 13 there is a reference that "We held the Circus on Saturday". George doesn't explain what kind of circus it is.

However, while I was researching the last post about the Melbourne YMCA, I came across a library catalog listing for the Official Programme of the Ninth Annual Gymnastic Circus: at Olympia, Wirth's Park, Saturday, 29th August, 1931 at 8 p.m.

It was fun to make that "ah-ha" connection between something random I ran across on the Internet and a direct reference in George's letter.

What I found even more interesting were a few other web pages that gave the history of gymnastics in Australia. These websites directly credit the Melbourne YMCA as being instrumental in the development of the sport in Australia.

According to a site called Australian Women at the 1956 Olympic Games:
"Following World War 1, Australia , like most countries found itself in the grip of the Depression. Unemployment was high, morale was low and many people were left homeless and destitute.

"During this time, many people turned to organisations such as the Y.M.C.A. their local church groups, youth groups and other friendly societies where resources could be pooled, support was on offer and a sense of community spirit developed. It was in this environment that gymnastics in Australia , once again began to flourish.

"As the sport slowly developed competitions began to occur. From the 1930's interstate gymnastics competitions were regularly organised by the Y.M.C.A. The first Victorian Y.M.C.A. State competition was held in 1936 with teams from the Melbourne Y.M.C.A, Wesley College and Geelong Grammar competing."
There are other references I found. I expect that I'll have an opportunity to go into the topic more as I'm sure George will make references to these events in the future.

Joyce's Sweet 14

I think George really comes to life when reading his comments about Joyce and Edith. This one especially cracked me up.  "Of course, we will give her something for her bank account, but she doesn't consider that a present. She thinks that money that is saved is not a present."

And I can't help but agree with Joyce here!

Church Elder Election

Also of note in this letter are George's references to his church. I thought it was amusing when George talked about attending an event: "I went alone to see what the show was like, and was, of course, drawn in to make an address."

He was that used to public speaking, that practiced at it, that he could, off  the cuff "make an address". Granted, it was a father/son event, and George's specialty was speaking to and about youth.

At the end of that same paragraph, George also tells Noel that he has been asked to become a church elder.  "This may involve an election, and it is possible I may not be returned because I am not well known among the Church folk."

I was startled at that statement, as I expected that George, given his vocation, would have been more active in his church before this.

No. 13 -- 1 Sept 1931

Mr. N.A. Hughes,
C/o Y.M.C.A. College
5315 Drexel Avenue,

My dear Noel,

Yesterday I received a copy of the Y.M.C.A. Blue Book giving particulars of the Association at Calgary. This is certainly a fine piece of printed matter, and I imagine was specially prepared to act as propaganda in a financial effort on behalf of the Calgary work. Thank you for sending it on to me.

I am expecting there will be a letter at home giving fuller particulars of your trip across Canada. We have had several mails leaving at pretty close intervals recently, consequently you have received I think in all about four letters from me this month.

We held the Circus on Saturday, and it was a splendid success. The afternoon performance was attended by between 300 and 400 people, mainly at our invitation. We hurriedly arranged to invite the poor children from the City Mission, North Melbourne Mission, Montague Boys, Deaf & Dumb, and a number of other groups of a like character. It gave the kiddies an afternoon's entertainment, and at the same time provided an audience for our performers. You know that the afternoon gathering is never largely attended, and is really more in the direction of a final rehearsal than an actual performance. Next year we intend to extend the invitation list pretty widely, so as to bring in a large number of the children's organisations to see the show. The evening performance went off splendidly. It was quite as well attended as other years, which of course was gratifying to see. We thought that because of the financial depression, there would be a considerable drop in the attendance, but our fears proved to be groundless. I am sending to you under separate cover a copy of the circus programme. I thought that probably Clive would be interested in looking it over. The standard of performance, was, I think quite up to the usual. Some of the items were, in my judgment, a little better than other years. At any rate most folk seemed to be entirely satisfied with the show. Of course,  it is too early to say how much we are likely to clear in the way of financial returns.

On Saturday night we also had a group of about 300 folk here in the building in connection with the Methodist Young People's Movement associated with the Methodist Babies' Home. Matron and her staff had the job of providing supper for the m and consequently could not attend the circus gathering.

Matters in connection with the Queen Carnival are gathering momentum and I think the response on the whole ought to be pretty good. Most of the committees organising the carnival are putting in a lot of time and thought into preparations for raising money and I think the results are proving quite good.

We are considering a big scheme for the crowning ceremony. Tomorrow night the Executive will meet to decide the details. We feel that we can make this crowning ceremony a big feature not only from the point of view of publicity, but also of some assistance in the scheme of money raising. The cards in connection with the Queen Carnival are not quite ready, but as soon as they are available I will send you a copy so that you may see just exactly how the plan is arranged and you will also see the photographs of the folk you know. (Enclosed).

Matron has been busy preparing curtains for the cafeteria and we expect this week to have them up, and we think the cafeteria will look much more homelike and the bareness removed from the walls. We are also putting covers on the tables which should give a very bright effect.

At our little Church we held a Father and Son Sunday, a week ago and had a fine evening service. Keith accompanied the rest of us to Church, and I think enjoyed the service. On the following Wednesday we had a Father and Son "Get-Together" gathering in the Church hall. Keith could not attend, but I went alone to see what the show was like, and was, of course, drawn in to make an address. It was quite a good thing to have the Church folk rallied together in this way, and I think it is likely to become an annual service. Next Sunday is Communion Service at the Church. You will be interested in hearing that I have been asked to become an Elder of the Church. This may involve an election, and it is possible I may not be returned because I am not well known among the Church folk. However, if they want me you can be sure I shall be only too happy to take any part I can in the development of the Church's life.

Tonight there is to be held a Minstrel Revue in connection with the Queen Carnival. This will be held in our Social Hall and is being organised by the Y's Men, Residents, etc. The proceeds will of course swell the total towards crowning Kath Lilford as Queen. Mother, I think, will be in to have a look at the show.

I have not much home news to pass on to you, as it is only a week or two since I last wrote. Ruth was out for the weekend. I think she spend practically the whole of the time in bed as she not only had a heavy cold, but was feeling the strain of the heavy work she had been experiencing.

The kiddies are well. Yesterday was Joyce's birthday. She is now sweet 14. I was told last week that I had to provide a cover for her tennis racquet which I think a very modest request and quite in keeping with the times! Of course, we will give her something for her bank account, but she doesn't consider that a present. She thinks that money that is saved is not a present.

Mrs. Harrison is still with us. To be quite frank we are beginning to be a little "fed up" with the rather prolonged stay with us, but of course we are only too glad to help them in their time of difficulty as Harrison has not had too good a time during recent months.

Later: We did not receive a letter this mail, as I had expected. Yet, on second thoughts I do not see just how you could have sent it in view of the fact that you would be crossing Canada about the time the mail left America. In the rush of the Toronto conference you would not have a great deal of time for letter writing.

Tom Laing was good enough to send a postcard from the conference in which he mentioned that the Aussie boys were having a good time, and getting a great deal out of the conference, especially along Fellowship lines. He said that you were busy making contacts to help you later. I am sure you would have a great time meeting the other Australians as the Conference.

We were sorry to learn that Ern. Saunders could not attend and more sorry still to learn that he was to finish up at his Montreal job at the end of August. This will mean another "move on" for him. I hope you kept a list of the folk you met at the Conferences who remembered me overseas, and in America. It would be a great pleasure to receive from you some idea of the folk whom you met.

This letter will reach you just before your College work commences. I understand it is due to arrive in America about the 26th. Allowing several days to cross to Chicago, you should get it just at the time your school work opens up.

From your contacts  with the Springfield boys, you will have gathered quite a lot of information concerning College life and work, and I hope you will put that knowledge to the best possible use.

You will find that it will pay you handsomely to keep in close touch with the men you meet at the Conferences. An occasional postcard or letter will be a valuable means of maintaining connection with them. It is customary for a young fellow to drop a lot of these personal contacts but I urge that you maintain them and keep in frequent touch with the folk by an occasional letter. If you cannot do that, post something to them concerning one or other of the branches of the Chicago Association, reports, printed matter, etc. This helps to keep a closer touch.

Rex told me the other day that the person with whom he was expecting to effect a sale of the amplifier has gone cold on the proposition, so that we are still as far off as ever, as far as disposing of it is concerned. It looks as if in the ultimate we shall have to dismantle it and sell the parts, if we are to get anything out of it at all. Rex is away in the country this week and I have been urging that he should do his best to introduce the amplifier to any folk in the country who may be interested in providing music for dance halls, picture shows, etc.

By the way you will be interested to hear that Williamson, the dentist who lived in the building with us for several years, is leaving for North Western University, Chicago, by this steamer. He will, therefore, be in Chicago about the beginning of October. I have given him a card to yourself so that he may make contact with you shortly after his arrival.

Don't forget to get in close touch with Mr. Norman Weston, Physical Director of the Evanston Y, Chicago. He is a good friend of mine and will help you I am sure. Also Harry White and Laurie Bowen, whose addresses you have. Look them up early.

I must close now. All the folk at home send their love. We hope you will capitalise every opportunity now presented to you. Hard work will bring its own reward.

Yours affectionately,

05 October 2011

No. 12 -- 24 Aug 1931

Mr. N.A. Hughes,
C/o Y.M.C.A. College,
5315 Drexel Avenue,

My dear Noel,

I understand there is a mail leaving this afternoon, so I am taking a few minutes to drop you a few lines. There is not a great deal to pass on to you this mail, as it is only a week ago since we last wrote.

I had a letter from Merle Scott, who was formerly General Secretary at Honolulu, in which he stated that my letter to him advising him of you arrival there, had been forwarded to him at Eugene in Oregon, consequently he was not on hand to welcome you. That explains the reason why you were not met at the boat. The Association fellows at Honolulu did not know because there was not time for Mr. Scott to write to them between the receipt of my letter and your arrival.

We have had good word from Dr. Doggett, concerning the four Australians at Springfield. He writes in the highest terms of the four men -- Evans, McRae, Jones and Laing, and of course asks for more. I think you have got to do your share in building up a tradition in connection with the Chicago Y College. Now that Glover and yourself are in the student body, it is up to you to endeavor to secure the interest of other men so that the number at Chicago may be increased.

We had a visit from the Bendigo Y.M.C.A. Harriers on Saturday last. They ran from Bendigo to Melbourne, a distance of 100 miles in relays, and did the journey in 10 1/4 hours. It was an awful day with cold wind and heavy rain. The fellows had a very trying experience. That they put up such an excellent time is a really remarkable performance, for a club that has only been formed about two months.

We have a visit planned from the Ballarat fellows on September 12th when about 25 or 30 of them are coming down to a series of competitions in basketball, volleyball, billiards, swimming, etc. etc. This is helping to bring the provincial Associations into closer touch with our city work.

Ack Way seems to be doing a good job at Ballarat. I think I told you in my last letter that Alec. Spence had gone from our Leader Corps to the Ballarat Physical Directorship. By the way, I understand that Spence is likely to go to America for training later on.

You will remember David Unaipon, the aboriginal who has been living in the building. We have had a splendid lot of service from him in addressing groups of our members. Hundreds of them have been told the story of aboriginal life in the Northern part of South Australia.

You will be sorry to learn the Miss Ray lost her sister on the 19th August. She has been ill for a considerable time and passed away on that date. Matron and Mr. and Mrs. Pollock attended the funeral. A wreath was sent from the Association staff.

In the Suburban Auxiliaries Scheme, interest is intensifying, and it looks as if the Queen Carnival Competition will be a success. The Boys' Department held a function on Saturday night in which the Fathers' and Mothers' Clubs combined in a Games Night. There were about 130 present and a nett amount of between £3 and £4 was secured towards the Junior Department Queen. The Vikings have outlined a big list of functions, a copy of which I am enclosing. In connection with the Senior Queen (Kath. Lilford) organisation is getting under way and a number of social functions have been arranged. All this is creating considerable interest and I think will result in substantial help to the Association. It is probable that the Crowning Ceremony will take place on Saturday, October 17th, but that date has yet to be confirmed by the Executive.

Mr. Hines returned to work today, after about ten days illness, as the result of the accident to his knee. Walter Muston returned from illness on Saturday, although he is still far from well. George Briggs is still laid up and it looks as it will be some little time before we shall see him about again. Probably it will be the end of the week before he will be available for duty. All of this has thrown an added burden upon the front office staff, as there have been fewer men to take on extra duties.

Ern. Gollan is away at Buffalo with the Buffalo party. There are 22 who made the trip this year. They will return on Friday next.

There is little to report in connection with home affairs beyond what I gave you in my last letter. Keith has been working for the Texaco during the past week, but it looks as if this will finish on Wednesday at the latest. There are other ships to come and I suppose he will handle the cargo as before, that is unless he secures another job in the meantime.

Rex. is still at work, but I think he is getting to the "fed up" stage and I should not be surprised if he turns the job in any day. He states he has another job to go to.

Mrs. Harrison is staying with us again, but I do not know how long she will be with us. The kiddies are well and so is Ruth. Ruth said she would drop you a line by this mail. I hope she was able to do so.

You will receive this a week or so ahead of the time you commence work at college. I hope, old chap, that you have been well received and that you enjoy the prospects ahead. I sincerely hope a job has been found for you on a part time basis. From all I hear, conditions are not too good in Chicago, but I trust that a way will open so that you may find something that will "keep the pot boiling". Let me know immediately if you are in monetary difficulties.

We all unite in sending our warmest love,
Affectionately yours,

The Melbourne YMCA

The YMCA letterhead from 1931, scanned from one of George's letters.
The Melbourne YMCA is such a prominent character in George's letters, but frustratingly, it isn't easy to find a significant summary of its history on the Internet.

The eMelbourne website, which is an online encyclopedia of Melbourne, includes this information:
"By 1924 Melbourne boasted the largest YMCA in the southern hemisphere. Its new premises opened in City Road near Princes Bridge in 1925, and a decade later membership stood at over 2000 men and boys...

After a long period of decline, the Melbourne YMCA closed down in 1980, many of its functions being taken over by the Victorian State YMCA." 

Note that the "decade later" statement above refers to the 1930s when George was general secretary and writing these letters.

The Melbourne YMCA in 1974
(Original courtesy of Lindsay Bridge via Flickr
and edited version courtesy of Michael Williams via Flickr)
The YMCA building where George worked was located near the Prince's Bridge in South Melbourne. A contact on Flickr, Michael Williams, who lived at the Melbourne YMCA in the mid 1960s and has a photo set devoted to his time at the Y, remembers the address as 2 City Road.

Regardless, the building was demolished during the development of the nearby Arts Centre complex.

The Prince's Bridge area in
South Melbourne, 1945
(courtesy of the
University of Melbourne Map Collection)
The Prince's Bridge area in
South Melbourne, 2011
(courtesy Google Maps)
(A) denotes approximate location of YMCA

I was able to find a Melbourne Argus newspaper article from 12 Nov 1926 noting the opening of the then new Melbourne YMCA building. The article, about the YMCA's Armistice Day observances, notes that the association's new building stood as "a perpetual reminder of the splendid work done by the association during the war, and of the hundreds of Y.M.C.A. members who had served with the A.I.F."

Clipping from The Argus (Melbourne) Friday 12 Nov 1926
Courtesy of Australia Trove digitized newspapers and more
In this case, "perpetual" means only 54 years, which is actually a good run for a building in a thriving city in the 20th Century, I guess.

On a personal note, I remember touring Melbourne in 1980 and visiting what was, I think, the YMCA building, and being told it wouldn't be around for much longer. I remember being shown George's name on a wall placard somewhere. I wish I'd paid more attention, but I was only 11 years old then. Maybe a search of old family photos will turn up something. 

I also found it interesting to note that an Internet search of "Young Men's Christian Association of Melbourne" turns up many Y publications that exist in library collections today, which is consistent with repeated statements that George includes in his letters about distributing the publications and donating them to libraries.