25 March 2012

Family news, and Al Capone

I've been looking forward to reaching this letter, as it feels like a turning point. The news of the queen carnival is over, and we are entering a back and forth exchange of letters that makes everything seem more interesting.

The Argus (Melbourne),
Saturday 8 August 1931, page 4
click image to read the rest of the article.
A fun thing in this letter was finding a contemporary reference to gangster Al Capone. I have heard many anecdotal stories in my life about Chicagoans traveling internationally and hearing "Chicago. Bang-bang. Al Capone." George's letter is a good illustration why that happened, because around the world, newspapers were fascinated with Chicago gangs and Capone.

I enjoyed looking through the online newspaper archives to see what George might have been reading about Capone, and found that there was pretty consistent and thorough coverage during the trial. See the article at right and those posted with letter No. 18, for examples, all from The Argus, a Melbourne newspaper.

The family news is also fun in this letter. Joyce and Edith are growing silk worms, Keith is working for the Texaco company, and Ruth is liking her nursing studies, although she did have the misfortune to have her fur coat stolen.

We also get a glimpse of Noel as a young man, in charge of the Y's record collection, and having girls drop by to check up on his doings.

George's religious life is showing more than usual, with references to him being elected an elder at the church, and to him leading bible study at the Y.

Unfortunately, in all the letters so far, we get virtually no glimpse into the life of "Mother", except for occasional health reports.

No. 18 -- 26 Oct 1931

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

My dear Noel,

Your good letter of 13th September came to hand a week or so ago. We were very delighted to hear that you had secured a number of small jobs which had helped to "keep the wolf from the door".  Mother was rather interested in hearing that you had been doing some house cleaning at 50 cents an hour. Evidently the training at home has not come amiss after all.

Naturally, we are anxious to hear exactly what has turned up in the way of a job that will keep you going during your college work. The uncertainty leaves us a little perturbed at present, but no doubt something will eventuate for you.

It is certainly remarkably good of the Lincoln Belmont Y to look after you as they have done. Will you please express my appreciation to all concerned. I must drop Larry Bowen a note expressive of my thanks.

We were also interested to hear that you had been out to Harry White's home, and also that Alex. Moodie had been with you in Chicago. We have had several letters from Pontius, Peck, and others, telling us of Moodie's movements. And so you also had a time with Norman Weston. All of these good friends will make you feel that there are at any rate a few homes where you can go for an odd hour or two if you feel so disposed.

Your experience with the dentist will surely act as a warning that you must make such visits as seldom as possible. With your limited means we have been wondering how on earth you have managed to pay all the necessary amounts which entrance on college work demands. What about your room rent, athletic and other outfits? Then, the question of text books. Surely you have found it difficult to meet all that is required.

We were very please to hear that you had secured so many credits towards your entrance status, and I sincerely hope it will be possible for you to clean up some of the arrears of credits so that you will not lose any actual time in your college course.

The Argus (Melbourne),
Monday 26 Oct 1931, page 7
I will see that some newspapers are sent on to you from time to time so that you may be able to keep in touch with conditions in Australia. The only news we get of Chicago is when Al. Capone appears before the courts on some charge or else there is a shooting up incident which is attributed to the gang element in Chicago. If we get only that type of news about Chicago, it is certain you will get very little news concerning Australia in the Chicago papers.

All the folk at home are well. The kiddies are growing very rapidly. Last evening they had the competitions in connection with their gym. work at the Girls' Guild, but neither of them this year was successful in securing a place. Ruth was in to see me yesterday and we expect here home for the weekend. She was very "peeved" because some one had stolen her fur at the hospital. She kicked up the dickens of a row about it but so far the fur has not turned up. I suppose it will not be returned at all. Keith has had a week's work with the Texaco Company and I think has still a day or two next week. Mother is keeping very well and so am I.

Rex has gone away on another job into the country in connection with the installation of some talkie apparatus. He expects to be away for about four or five days.

The Argus (Melbourne),
Saturday 26 Sept 1931, page 21
I have intended in several letters to ask you to give us some idea of the number of gramophone records you purchased from that English boy, and also a list of any others that you bought subsequent to that time. As I look over the records,  I am certain that we have quite a number missing. I wonder if you could give a rough estimate of the actual number there should be, and also if you can remember the names of any particular ones so that we may check up the list, and find out whether any are missing or not.

Margaret Park was over at the home last weekend, and so was Milly Harris. Both of them wish to be remembered to you.

There is great excitement at home just now as we have had a very large addition to the family. Several hundreds of silk worms have come out of the eggs that Joy had from last year and every night there is excitement in changing the silk worms from the old mulberry leaves to the fresh. I don't know whether the kiddies will maintain their interest in the silk worms if they demand too much time and care.

You will be interested to learn that on Sunday morning, November 1st, I am to be inducted into the Eldership at the South Hawthorn Presbyterian Church. Three of us will be added to the Session of the Church and this, of course, will mean additional responsibility for me, but I think I shall be able to carry out what is expected of me in the new job.

I have not got a great deal of Association news to give you apart from the fact that we have been having some splendid initiation ceremonies in connection with the Boys' Department. Another one is to be  held tonight. These ceremonies are exceedingly well attended and have created quite a large amount of interest not only among the Boys' Department members, but also with our Board of Directors.

I have commenced a series of Bible studies with the residents on Tuesday evenings. We meet in the Memorial Hall at 8 o'clock and there has been quite a good group of fellows present on each occasion. I am taking a series of seven studies in the life of Peter.

Our staff group on Monday morning has been studying McCandless's book "Association Administration". We expect to complete the studies at the end of November. It has been a splendid thing to review the chapters of this book as they have given us a lot of valuable material to consider in relation to our own problems of administration.

We are holding the final meetings in connection with the number of our winter activities, and by the end of next month or early December, the wind up dinners and other functions will be held.

Matron and Miss Ray are both keeping well. Wally Muston, Reg. Gray are likewise, although Muston has been away ill with influenza. Charlie Jutsum and Audrey Catterall are both away with flu' and have been for the past week. We have had quite a lot of illness among the residents and old Mr. Whittam was sent away to the Homeopathic Hospital with appendicitis.

Ruth mentioned that you wished to have the birthdays of the members of the family. They are as follows: --
Edith on May 7th, 1920; Joyce on August 31st, 1917; Ruth on Feb. 18th, 1912; your own, December 11th, 1909; Keith, Nov. 5th, 1905; Mother's, May 27th, 1881, my own, Sept. 15th 1878.
Ruth said she would be writing you by this mail, so that I expect you will hear from her as well. She is still enjoying her work at the hospital. She thinks it is quite possible she will be sent down to the children's ward before very long. She has practically completed her work as a "pup" which is the abbreviated form of pupil.

Last night we said farewell to Ragnar Lundqvist, our best all-around athlete in the Athletic Club. He is returning to Sweden. We shall miss him a great deal as this year our fellows go up to "A" grade. Ru. Dorr has also injured his leg very seriously at Rugby. It is doubtful whether he will be of much use to the club for some time ahead. Tom Place had an accident with his leg some little time back, but it seems to be mending again and I think he will be alright. Jim Ralston is just the same as ever, and as keen as mustard on his club and I think the prospects of the Athletic Club are quite good.

The Hockey Club won the premiership of their grade; ditto the Lacrosse Club and the Baseball fellows were runners up in their grade so that we have had quite good results from our winter's sports.

There should be an American mail in next week, and we are expecting a further letter from you.

We all unite in sending our warmest love. We are confident you will work hard and that you will achieve success in your studies.

Please remember me to Clive and May.

With warm love from us all,

Yours affectionately,


03 March 2012

The Queen Crowning and Ivor Burge

The Queen Competition is at a conclusion and Kath Lilford, Noel's girlfriend, has won. George devoted about a third of letter No. 17 to coverage of the ceremony and Kath's role in it.

I can't help but wonder how Noel might have felt about Kath's victory in such a pageant, being so far away from her geographically? I have found no clues.

I do find it interesting how George writes about the event almost like a newspaper reporter would, going so far as to directly quote Ivor Burge. 
Ivor Burge characterised it as "one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen".

But then again, George's letter writing style is very factual and business-like.

Ivor Burge

Ivor Burge
One of the fun things about this project has been finding very casual references to people in these letters, and then discovering that these people have left noteworthy legacies.

For instance, Ivor Burge's name has appeared in the last two letters. Judging from the context, it's apparent that he's an employee of the Melbourne YMCA.

Then, come to find out that according to the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame, Burge is considered one of the founding fathers of basketball in Australia. He attended Springfield College in the United States, where basketball was born, and when he returned to Australia in 1928, he brought the sport with him.

So here are these letter references three years later, and now we can imagine Burge as an athletic director of some sort at the YMCA, nurturing the nascent sport of basketball under the YMCA's roof.

No. 17 -- 14 Oct 1931

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

My dear Noel,

There is a mail leaving this afternoon, so I am dropping you a further line to give you additional news concerning affairs of the Association and at home.

Clipping from The Argus (8 Oct 1931), Page 5
The Queen Crowning Ceremony has been quite a big feature of the past month, and we are happy to say that it turned out to be a splendid success in every way. Each of the departments, Junior, Viking and Senior, "pulled their weight in the boat" and we had  such a multitude of fixtures that it became a severe tax upon everybody. I think in all over  40 separate functions were organised by the three committees in the interests of the Queens.

You can well understand what that meant both inside and outside of the Association. The Crowning Ceremony on Thursday last went off splendidly. Ivor Burge characterised it as "one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen". I think all of the folk who attended the ceremony were favorably impressed, and we have not heard one adverse comment. It meant a whale of a lot of work in preparation, but it was well worth while. I am enclosing a copy of the programme so that you will be able to follow the proceedings. The grand entry of the Queens was a very spectacular and impressive affair.

The voting was continued until about 9.15 p.m., then for a quarter of an hour we did not publish any results. this left the issue entirely in doubt, and during that time people were asked to contribute either in cash or promise, towards the voting for various Queens. When I made the announcement there was great excitement from the supporters of each of the Queens. The voting resulted as follows:--

Queen of Youth -- Kath Lilford --      30579 votes       £127  8  3
Queen of Juniors -- Ruby Davis --     30186 votes      £125:15  6
Queen of Vikings -- Lil. Langham --   22664 votes      £ 94   8  8

A total of £347:12:5. Of course expenses in connection with the effort will have to be deducted and I imagine that somewhere in the neighborhood of £300 will be the nett result. The whole effort was an excellent thing in that it welded together the various departments in one useful effort and its by-products in this respect were particularly good.

Kath Lilford stands
behind Edith Hughes
Kath had had a very heavy cold for some days prior to the Crowning Ceremony, but she managed to keep going alright, and is now quite well again. This effort entailed a tremendous amount of work upon the various groups and I personally feel that they have rendered very fine service to the Association in bringing the competition through so successfully.

We have had quite a lot of sickness in the house. Matron has been kept busy with attendance upon 'flu patients. There has been a very serious epidemic of influenza during the past tow months.  Some of the hospitals have had wards filled with nurses who were unable to continue their work because of the 'flu. Miss Bourchier was also away and so was Wally Muston. Muriel Ratcliffe is also down the 'flu just now.

In view of the legislation resulting in a reduction in mortgage interest, we are appealing to our debenture holders to accept a 1 1/2% reduction so that in future the rate of interest payable will be 5 1/2% We are hoping that they will agree to this arrangement. Of course, if any of them object to it we must keep our contract with them and pay 7%.

With all the interest centred in the Queen Carnival, we had a pretty lean month in finances in September, consequently we went back about £350. Our deficit to the end of September is £2419. This is a very serious position to be in, and we are having special meetings of the Finance Committee to see whether we can effect still further economies. This business is getting on our nerves a bit, and we are all feeling a bit frayed by the continual worry over finances. Despite all that we have done to promote additional business, we have had very little result from the extra promotion.

I have had several letters from America during the last few days, and also from England. In a letter I received from John Pontius, he spoke of meeting you at Cleveland. I am quoting from his letter -- "It is my sincere hope that we may be afforded the pleasure of having him at our home at intervals while he is in America. I extended an invitation to him to consider our home his American home during  his sojourn here; and I sincerely hope he will accept that at its face value. When he wants to get away from student environment into real home atmosphere, Mrs. Pontius and I shall be very glad indeed to have him feel free to visit us. I say that we told him this. Lest he be hesitant about accepting it I wish that you would write him and confirm the literal intent as well as the spirit of our invitation." Pontius also said that they had a visit from Alec. Moodie.

Fred. J. Smith of Toronto wrote -- " It was certainly great to meet your fine son during the Toronto Convention. I went out of town during the latter days of the Conference, and when I returned Noel had gone, and I have not been in touch with him since, but hope I will have the opportunity of meeting him again soon.

Ralph Cole has written me a second letter in which he referred to the pleasure it gave him to have you in their party en route to the conference.

F.J. Chamberlain, National Secretary of Great Britain, also referred to his meeting with you and so did David Gunn, the General Secretary of the Y.M.C.A. at Doncaster, England.

The National Convention is booked for November 21 to 23 at Melbourne. We are expecting reasonably good delegation from the other Associations, especially from the Victorian centres. I must confess I wonder just what we are going to do in the way of legislation at this convention, although in some senses it is necessary that we should meet to discuss future policy, especially in relation to national work. Mr. Trainor who was to have finished up with the National Committee on the 30th September, is continuing until after the Convention. Mr. Woodcraft is still in New Zealand, but I do not think he is having much success in his financial solicitation.

Messrs. Crosby, Jenner, Hooke, McKean, Nichol, Forster, etc. are all keeping well.

Ivor Burge is to be married on the 7th November, to Miss Eileen Laurie. Messrs. Jutsum, Gollan, Gray, Way, Hines and other others on the staff are all keeping well. We have to answer a large number of enquiries from the members, residents, etc. as to how you are getting along.

The kiddies at home are well. Both of them are greatly excited over the Guild Display which is to be held on October 29th, and next Friday the competition for medals will be held. Both of them are hoping to be successful, although I do not think that Joy can expect to win the medal this year, as it was her first year in the senior section.

Rex. has been away for over a week installing talkie apparatus in one of the country towns. Keith is still without a job, although he expects to be with the Texaco Company for 10 days or a fortnight commencing on Monday next.

Mother is keeping well and is, of course, concerned as to how you are getting along. You must give her some particulars regarding how you are faring so as to assuage her concern.

All our attempts to dispose of the Amplifier have so far met with no success. There has been such a tremendous drop in values, that I do not think that we are likely to get anything like £40 for the job or even half of it.

Ruth has practically finished her probation and we expect she will be taking up full responsibilities as a nursing trainee. She seems to be very much in love with her job.

I must finish now. I know you will do your best to give us full news concerning your new work. I sincerely hope you are finding everything  to your satisfaction. I should like to know just what attitude has been taken by the College authorities in relation to your entrance exam.

Be good enough to get Mr. Haughton to send me several copies of the catalogue with the small pamphlets giving other particulars.

With warm love from us all,
Yours affectionately,