In memory of Auld Lang Syne

How music and memories entwine

I am not as musical as I would like to be, not as musical as my brother, father and paternal grandmother that’s for sure.

Granma Jessie Caulfield was a fine pianist. She could play practically anything by ear. I used to love listening and watching her play In the Mood, Baby Elephant Walk and the mournful Godfather theme song. She never seemed to tire. She had a pianola, which we all wanted to play. Even though it was hard work pressing those pedals, press we did, hoping that by osmosis we too could tinkle the ivories just like her.

Granma Caulfield 2My grandmother had been playing the piano since the nineteen teens. During the second world war her husband, my grandfather, a taxi driver, would often arrive home for dinner, calling out as he came up the stairs, ‘Another one for dinner, Mama,’ giving her five seconds warning to rise, warmly greet a US soldier and put on more vegetables. But it was never a bother. She loved welcoming people into her home. Afterwards, she would play the piano for them with my aunt and uncle joining in for sing-alongs.

She played at country dances and private parties as well, and as my father grew up, he too would join her, playing the piano accordion. Years later when my brother, Greg, and I arrived we would tag along to these social events and at the end of many a gathering, everyone would form a large circle, hold hands, sing and charge to Auld Lang Syne – literally translated as ‘old long since’ but commonly translated as ‘for the sake of old times’.

It was my favourite part of the entire evening, albeit a challenge sometimes for me to stay awake till this climax – particularly on New Year’s Eve. To me, singing Auld Lang Syne was a sacred ritual that bound people together in a way that words or physical actions rarely ever did. To stand in that circle and hold someone’s hand gave me a palpable sense of belonging. This humble Scottish tune fills me with bittersweet nostalgia every time I hear it. It fills my throat with a great lump of emotion every time I sing it. Sadly it’s an important tradition, a beautiful tradition, that is dying.

In Come What May there is a moment when something sacramental is called for to mark the significance of an occasion. And in that moment one of my characters steps forward and sings Auld Lang Syne.

This version and this clip come close to capturing what that moment was like. The singer is Daniel Cartier from New York; the clip was filmed on a windswept winter’s day on Cape Cod.

Daniel in water

Daniel 2 in water

Years ago I went to Cape Cod on a windswept winter’s day. I was in Boston attending meetings with a spare weekend in between. My partner, Mark, was with me and we decided we’d go to Provincetown, even if were January and far from sunny. We’d seen enough of Boston in winter. (Seriously, this was my fourth winter visit.)

Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, was charming, full of wooden clapboard houses  and shopfronts. I bought a set of earrings made from space shuttle material, or so I was told. The Sonoma chardonnay we drank over dinner was mellow and superb. Everywhere we went the people were wonderfully friendly and as Mark and I discovered wonderfully gay. We could very well have been the only straight couple in town. We stayed in a place that reminded me of the inn from Nights of Rodanthe. Being the quiet season we had a choice of rooms. We chose one on the bottom level at the rear with glass windows around three sides opening to a bleached wooden deck hovering just above the grey sleepy sea. Late that afternoon a storm with winter lighting (!) swept across the harbour. It was exciting and elemental, lashing all around us while we were high and dry in our glass cube.

Years later when I was writing Come What May and wanting my character to sing Auld Lang Syne I went searching for the song, just for the pleasure of listening to it once more. And that is when I stumbled upon Daniel. His version warmed my heart in so many ways, reminding me how fortunate my life has been, reminding me of loved ones who are no longer with us, reminding me of the beauty of wide open spaces and the communion of kindred souls.

I hope you love it just as much as I do and come back here again when you get to that part in Come What May. Here’s what Daniel has to say about his rendition:

It’s one of those rare songs that makes me feel joy and sadness all at once. Faces from the past… faces from the present… all come together and tug at my heart. 

The one constant we have in life is change. In every life there are heartwarming hellos and heartbreaking goodbyes. That’s not always easy to handle. Embracing the new. Letting go of the old. Laughter and tears. This song has always driven these points home to me.  

I recorded this version in my home studio. The whole process took 10 minutes. I had a good cry when I was through. A few days later – my partner and I filmed the video with a cellphone, on a deserted beach of our beloved Cape Cod. It was well below freezing and very windy. I think we were on the beach for 15 minutes.

Four lives – the price of my Australian heritage

Hello and thank you for stopping by my blog as part of the Australia Day Book Giveway Blog Hop. I recently released my debut novel, Seldom Come By, an epic adventurous love story set on the eve of the great war.

Seldom Come By Hi Res (CMYK)It was described in a recent review as: a great mix of romance, scenery, tragedy and history. 

It’s true. I am attracted to all of the above. In celebration of Australia Day I will be giving away a copy of Seldom Come By – print or ebook – your choice – to someone who leaves a comment here to this blog. You need to comment by midnight AEST Tuesday 28 January. The winner will be announced towards the end of January.

I’m sorry to say, this is a longer than usual blog. How did that happen! I have decided to write about my Australian heritage, how this line of Caulfields came to be in Australia, and the price they paid. It is a story of hope, sacrifice and heartache. I hope you enjoy it. When you have finished reading and commenting hop back on the blog tour of over 50 blogs, where there are more book giveaways to be found. 🙂

Syd and Shez

I was born and raised on a farm east of the gold mining town of Gympie, in a place called Cedar Pocket, once home to large stands of one of Australia’s few native deciduous trees, the Red Cedar. As far back as I can remember, both sides of my family were farmers – small crops and dairy. For many years, what epitomised being Australian to me, were the women and men of the land, summers spent swimming in free-flowing creeks and the odd dunk in the briny sea.

On Sept 11, 2001, when  I was living in New Zealand, I received a life-changing call from my older brother. “This is it,” he said. “I’m walking off the farm.” All Greg had wanted to do with his life was be a farmer. He left school at 16 years of age to pursue his dream, pelting his school shoes at the wall, announcing with certitude that he was never going back. Twenty years later, despite working across three paw-paw farms and capping mineshafts, he was unable to meet his mortgage payments. His news was monumental and heartbreaking. Before I could ask a single question, he said. “I’m off to work in the mines.”

Little did we know at the time he was continuing a lost family tradition. Twelve hours later that date woud be seared in history.

Five years down the line, our father, at our urging decided to write his life story. One thing about our father, when he decides to do something he really does give it his all. Rather than write a simple memoir, he decided to trace the path of his forebears on the Caulfield side to understand how they came to be in Australia. His grandmother had died when he was two years of age; ten years later, his seldom seen grandfather, Charles, passed away. All he knew about his grandfather was he had a bunch of stepbrother and sisters; little more.

In January 2006 while holidayiing in Hervey Bay with my parents I typed the first chapter of my father’s story. In doing so I read the amazing details of the life of his great grandparents, James and Catherine. I was unprepared for the story he uncovered. I know they were not alone in the hardships they bore; yet they weren’t two historical figures to me. They were a young man and a young woman not in the prime of their life but in the promise of their life and this is their Australian story:

My great, great, great Grandfather, James Caulfield, lived near Dungannon, not far from the ruins of Castle Caulfield, the ancient Northern Island seat of King Colla da Crioch, whose descendants were named Caulfield. In the late 1840s he married Easter Canny and their first child, a son, also called James, was born in 1851. That same year, to escape Ireland’s ongoing, crippling, potato famine, they emigrated to Durham County, England.

There, in Tow Law, near Wolsingham, James found employment in the coal and iron ore mines, the extracts of which would be made into cannon balls for the Crimean War. Six short years later he was tragically killed in a mining accident, leaving Easter with three young boys, James (6), John (4) and Charles (a new born).

How she survived the next 15 years as a widow with three boys to rear, we do not know. All we know is that James went on to become an underground miner like his father. It was stated as his occupation on his June 1872 wedding certificate to Catherine McAninally. Their first child, a son born on the 10th May 1873, was also named James, following the family tradition.

Two years later, when their second son, Francis, was born, they took up the Queensland Parliament’s offer of employment in Queensland. Offers to those experienced in mining and related professions had been available in England for over decade and as an enticement included free passage to Queensland for their families.

It was no holiday. These migrant ships became known as Coffin Ships, due to the number of people who perished on the voyages.

The young Caulfield family left London on the 9th December 1875 aboard the Western Monarch, a new vessel launched only a few months earlier. On this crossing, 442 migrants were bound for Australia. On board were a surgeon, a Dr Harricks, and a nurse, Matron Randall. They were certainly needed. A bout of Enterin Fever – typhoid – went through the ship. Catherine and Francis, were two of its victims.

When the Western Monarch anchored at the bar in Moreton Bay, Brisbane, on 15th March 1876, it was boarded by the Qld Health Officer, Doctor Challinor.

Fortunately by this stage Catherine and Francis were recovering, however one remaining case of typhoid fever was found. The entire ship was placed in quarantine. The occupants were deposited on sandfly-infested Peel Island, which had scant facilities to cater for such a large group of people. Outraged and alarmed, the ship’s doctor, Harricks, wrote to the Brisbane Courier Mail warning that passengers would perish as a result. He requested that Catherine and Francis be transferred to the Brisbane Hospital. Sadly his requests went unanswered.

On the 19th March, baby Francis Caulfield died; three days later, his brother, James. They were buried on Peel Island in sight of their new callous country, which their parents had hoped would be a land of golden opportunity for them.

On the 27th March 1876 the Western Monarch was allowed to disembark at the Port of Brisbane. James and Catherine could finally start their longed-for, now grieving, lives in Australia.

They took the railroad to Warwick where they lived on its outskirts in the town of Clifton, while James worked at Elphinstone Colliery. On the 20th August 1878 they welcomed a new, Australian-born son, Charles. Just over a year later, on 4th July 1879, their fourth son, Henry was born.

Around this time tenders were called to extend the railway line 40 miles to the booming tin-mining area of Stanthorpe, a Latinised name meaning ‘tin village’.

James, because of his experience, was employed by a large construction firm, Overend & Co, managing a small team of men preparing the dynamite blasting of cuttings that would blow away the rock on the Stanthorpe to Warwick Rail line. Gangs worked night and day to complete the task.

When not working on the railway line James was busy building a small hut on a freehold 40 acre parcel of land, at Killarney south east of Warwick so his family could move there in 1880.

At ten past eleven on Friday the 2nd April 1880 at Cutting 81, near Mineral Creek, fourteen miles south of Warwick, James along with three of his team were preparing three holes for dynamite. He lit two of the three charges and after they exploded James went back to light the third. When it did not explode he returned to replace it with another when it suddenly exploded shattering his right hand and wrist and tearing away the left part of his face. Michael Considine, one of his employees, raced to his aid, asking him if he could stand up. “Yes,” he replied. Then: “God help my wife and family.”

He was placed on a mattress on a spring cart and frantically transported along the railway line while a runner was sent to Warwick for a doctor. They were met at Rosentahal Creek six miles from Warwick.

Meanwhile, Catherine had just finished packing up their rented home in Clifton to move to Killarney to the hut her husband had finished building. When she arrived in Warwick a day later, she asked about the whereabouts of her husband James.

“That’s him in the funeral coffin in the street,” she was told.

He had died within minutes of seeing the Doctor.James

Somehow, someway, Catherine continued on to the meagre hut and farm her husband had prepared for her. I can’t imagine how she managed to survive those months alone, in the middle of nowhere, with two babies under two, curious aborigines peering through the cracks of her cobbled home, unable to read a single book for company. Six months later, her youngest son, Henry, died, leaving Charles – my great grandfather – the only suriving son of her late husband, James.

In the process of researching James’ history my father discovered his headstone on the Warwick Cemetery Heritage Trail. The column top was broken, not a mark of vandalism but symbolic of his life being cut short; it was lying on the ground having fallen out of its base. His infant son Henry had his inscription on the headstone as well.

This December just passed, as my father and I drove south to Tamworth for his sister’s funeral, we called in to the Warwick cemetery on a hot glaring day to visit the gravestone of my great, great grandfather, whose headstone my father had lovingly restored. James Caulfield, was 27 years old when he died.

Eight months later to the day, Catherine married a bachelor, Thomas Brennan, 20 years her senior, signing her second marriage certificate with an X.

With heartfelt thanks to my father, for his hours of research in documenting our family history.

New groupCharles