With the potential for a further extension of the lockdown due to Covid we do not know when the museum will re-open. As a result, we have cancelled our advertised October speaker – but we will certainly invite him back once things begin to open up again.
Unfortunately, we had to cancel our July Rivendell Open Day but you can still add your name to the waiting list so we can let you know when the next one will be on.
Hopefully, we will be able to go ahead with the Yaralla Open Day at the end of October, but, only time will tell.
Meantime, subscribe to our monthly newsletter to be kept up to date with what is happening with the Society and the museum. And you can follow us on Facebook. Two others sites you might like to check out are: Just for a bit of fun or I grew up in Concord 2137-Drummoyne 2047
According to conventional wisdom, you aren’t really supposed to remember things from your early childhood. Well, I must be an odd bod, because I do remember.
I was a happy enough little kid for the first five years of my life, with blond, curly hair, (whatever happened to it?), and nick-named ‘Goldilocks’.
I was the eldest born of three, with a sister three and a half years younger than me and, eventually, a brother seven years younger.
One night, when I was five years old, I was tucked into bed, fit and happy, and woke up the next morning completely paralysed, unable to move, get out of bed, or breathe without great difficulty.
Understandably, my parents could not comprehend what had happened so quickly and called our family doctor, a wonderful, grumpy but caring man called John Blakemore, (who was still my doctor 20 years later … but that’s another story.)
As I said at the beginning, I’m not supposed to be able to remember, but I can recall the exact words John used when he examined me in my little bed. He stood up, with a worried look on his face, put his arms around my young mother, and said, ‘Oh, girlie’, (he always called her that), ‘I have the worst possible news for you The poor little chap has infantile paralysis (polio). I’m so very sorry. We must get him to hospital immediately. You must be brave.’
I remember being bundled up like a rag-doll and carried out to an old-fashioned ambulance, by a huge but smiling man in uniform, then being placed on a stretcher-bed in the back, strapped in and driven to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Camperdown, where I was to remain for many months.
I seemed to undergo many tests, all mysterious and painful for a frightened little boy. Strange doctors poked and prodded me, forcing my arms and legs to bend and straighten, pushing at my stomach and back, rolling me around and, all the while, muttering and shaking their heads. It felt as if I was some kind of guinea pig and they were experimenting on me. Of course, this wasn’t true.
The sudden outbreak of polio, which affected thousands of otherwise healthy young Aussies, and others around the world, had surprised and dumbfounded the medical fraternity, and our doctors were caught by surprise.
Furthermore, we knew far less about polio then than we do today. I’m not sure we even realised it was a virus, transmitted through contact, that attacked the muscle and nerve systems. And, of course, the Sabine and Salk vaccines had yet to be developed.
I remember my father being ordered by the Health authorities to completely dig out and remove a privet hedge he had laboriously and proudly planted along our side fence. Their mad claim was that neighbourhood cats performed their nightly activities in the hedge (in and around which we kids played), and that, somehow, I had caught polio from the cats.
Of course, this was a ridiculous and unsubstantiated claim. My poor father nearly killed himself digging out the hedge, his pride and joy, and saying over and over, ‘Bloody cats. A man should shoot the lot of them!’
I think I was about the first of the local kids to contract polio, and my poor parents were ostracised and shunned by our neighbours and supposed friends, for their bad parenting, which let me get this awful illness. I can remember the shame they felt, without, of course, having the faintest idea of what they’d done … or not done.
However, before long other kids, and even young adults, also developed polio, including the son of one of the neighbours who had refused to cross the street or even speak to my mother as she was to blame for my polio. They soon shut up about their supposed superiority.
After the passing of so many years, my months in hospital still encompass both clear and mixed memories. I remember the looks of utter misery on the faces of my parents, each time they came to visit me. I now know they were told that I may never come home, that I might die in hospital, and that even if I did survive, I would be a cripple for the rest of my life. Thank heavens I was not aware of this at the time.
I clearly remember a day when I was lying helplessly on my stomach, on a hard bed, while some well-meaning nurses were massaging my back. A visiting American doctor asked them what they were doing to me. ‘We’re massaging his back. He has polio,’ they replied.
‘I can see that for myself’, said the visiting doctor; ‘but I suggest you turn him over if you want to help the poor little bugger. He has it in the stomach … not the back!’
Every now and again, I find myself wondering what might have been my fate if that American doctor had NOT been visiting my ward on that particular day. I still remember what he looked like … and his was the first American accent I’d ever heard.
Because I had great difficulty breathing, I spent much of my time in an awful machine called an iron lung, which forced air into and out of our useless lungs. It resembled one of those huge boxes that magicians use on stage when they pretend to saw a pretty girl in half.
At night, in the darkness of our ward, we could hear the endless whooshing sound these monsters made, as they breathed for those of us who couldn’t breathe for ourselves. Some nights, even now, I can still hear the sound … Whoosh! Whoosh! In and out!
I must have been pretty precocious, despite my age and illness, as I had my first girlfriend when I was in the Children’s Hospital, all those years ago. Her name was Barbara. She had beautiful, brown eyes and thick, dark hair in ringlets. Her little bed was next to mine, and at night the kind nurses, perhaps knowing what might happen to at least some of us, used to push our beds right up against each other so we could go to sleep holding hands.
One night, or probably early one morning, I felt Barbara’s hand slip from mine. Soon, some nurses came and quietly took her away. I never saw her again, but I somehow knew that a very bad thing had happened to her. When I asked my parents to explain it, they could not. Death visited very close to me that night.
There were only two highlights of my months in hospital. One was each visit by my parents. Each time they bought me a little Dinky Toy model car from a small, nearby shop. I still have those little cars today. Like me, they’ve seen better days.
The other special highlight was the frequent visits by a huge, smiling, short-giant of a man, who wore a Red Indian outfit and feathered headdress, who came whooping and laughing down the corridor, handing out lollies and presents. Every time he visited us he made us forget, for a while, our pain and misery. His name was Big Chief Little Wolf, the famous wrestler … and he remained my hero for the rest of his life. His fate was to be far worse than mine.
It seemed that my recovery was not totally straightforward. I came home several times, in an ambulance-car, and was allowed to stay home for a while. Then I had to return to hospital for more treatment. While I was at home one of my father’s duties was to take me to the seaside and hold me in front of him so the waves could crash against my stomach, supposedly strengthening my stomach muscles. The only problem was that, although dad loved fishing, he was terrified of water, especially the sea. Neither he nor my sister, who is much like him, ever learned to swim.
I can still mentally picture my poor, terrified father standing in the shallows of the ocean, holding me as far out in front of him as possible, with a look of absolute fear on his face. I’m not sure if the waves ever managed to reach my stomach, let alone give it any worthwhile massaging.
I also had to wear a special corset to support my weakened stomach muscles. It was a triumphant day for my boyish pride when it could finally be discarded. Many years later, after my mother died in 1998, we found the tiny, pink corset, faded but intact, tucked away in one of her cupboards.
I was, however, one of the lucky polio victims who did make a full recovery (or so I thought for many years)! I led a full, sporting and physically, active life – running, swimming, playing tennis, cricket, badminton, squash, and other sports – as well as being an Officer in the Australian Army Cadet Corps. Also, for several years I was an amateur wrestler at both Leichhardt Police Citizens Boys Club and at The University of Sydney.
Over 25 years ago, an increasingly weak and problematic left ankle, which I attributed to a bad fall at tennis, was eventually diagnosed as post-polio syndrome, a condition I’d not heard of, but of which I’m now all too painfully aware. It appears I’m one of over 400,000 Aussies who thought we’d overcome the polio of our childhood, only to discover that the actual virus never dies, but remains in our bodies, sometimes manifesting itself in a weak joint, such as my left ankle, and now, inexorably, affecting my left leg and hip. There is no cure, no real treatment, and, because we are all oldies, our condition is not fashionable in terms of medical research or expenditure.
Even so, I count my blessings, as some of my little friends of all those years ago died tragically young, while others spent the rest of their lives with withered, useless arms or legs, never able to enjoy the full and active life granted to me.
Graham Sims (2018)
(NOTE: Graham has been booked as our speaker in September. We sincerely hope that lockdown will be over and we can hear his talk on Bea Miles.)
The fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic may feel new to many of us. But it is strangely familiar to those who lived through the polio epidemic of the last century.
Polio – the silent killer
In the first half of the 20th century, as smallpox began to disappear, polio (infantile paralysis) was the disease most feared in resource-rich countries.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It is contracted orally through infected faecal matter, such as on someone’s hands or an object. It invades the central nervous system and can lead to total paralysis in a matter of hours and subsequent atrophy of muscles, ending in contractures (the permanent shortening of a muscle or joint) and permanent deformity.
Hospital wards filled up with paralysed victims bandaged into splints and families built special carts to move their stricken children around.
In most cases, patients used respirators for only a short time, but others remained in an iron lung for many years. At its worst, victims would be left reliant on artificial respiration for the rest of their lives.
Those who survived this highly infectious disease could end up with some form of paralysis, forcing them to use crutches, wheelchairs or to be put into an iron lung, a large tank respirator that would pull air in and out of the lungs, allowing them to breathe.
In the infectious wards in hospitals, the physiotherapists were kept busy stretching and exercising muscles, as well as making plaster splints and abdominal corsets.
People who survive the acute stage with paralysis faced years of rehabilitation.
It was known in Australia by the late 1800s, but the worst epidemics took place in the 20th century. It became a notifiable disease in Tasmania in 1911 and in all remaining states by 1922. it’s estimated that 20,000-40,000 Australians developed paralytic polio between 1930 and 1988.
Like a horror movie, the poliovirus arrived each summer, striking without warning. No one knew how polio was transmitted or what caused it. There were wild theories that the virus spread from imported bananas or stray cats. There was no known cure or vaccine.
Australians were periodically terrified by recurrent epidemics of polio that could potentially leave its victims paralysed, sometimes permanently.
Houses were fumigated, people quarantined, and entire families ostracised. Desperately worried parents resorted to hanging pungent camphor around their children’s necks in a misguided effort to ward off the virus and some fled to the mountains to escape.
But today it is almost forgotten, except by those whose lives were and remain directly affected.
Polio Australia estimates that Australia has some 400,000 polio survivors. But in recent years adults who suffered minor illnesses or had mild muscle weakness during the earlier epidemics are now also suffering Post-Polio Syndrome with unanticipated muscle weakness and atrophy.
Ultimately, poliomyelitis was conquered in 1955 by a vaccine developed by Jonas Salk and his team at the University of Pittsburgh.
In an interview, Bill Gates explained why the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had made eradicating polio worldwide a top priority.
Vaccines, he said, have saved millions of lives. He joined the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International and others to help finish the job started by the Salk vaccine, eradicating polio in the world. This accomplishment will free up resources that will no longer have to be spent on the disease.
Today, the disease has been eliminated from most of the world, and only three countries worldwide remain polio-endemic (Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan).
From smallpox to polio, vaccine rollouts have always had doubters. But, in the end, they work.
Anti-vaccination movements have existed for as long as vaccination.
Now we are seeing a new round of vaccine hesitancy in some corners of the world as the COVID vaccine is rolled out. But that is nothing new. Anti-vaccination movements have existed for as long as vaccination.
To learn more about the timeline of Polio,
The Blue Bird Sewing Machine
Bebarfalds, a retailer of home furnishings and manufacturer of furniture, traded for many years from its landmark location opposite the Sydney Town Hall on the corner of George and Park Streets.
They are best remembered for their sewing machines, introduced around 1917, and branded as ‘Blue Bird’ from about 1926.
Elegant cabinets, made with Australian wood and iron bases, some with leadlight inserts, were made at Bebarfalds’ furniture factory. They concealed British-made Vickers sewing machines, giving the impression of a substantial piece of furniture that would sit in harmony with other home furnishings.
They had a range of over 50 different styles, more than any other Australian company.
Bebarfalds offered customers free dressmaking courses and established an advisory bureau headed by Mona Moncrieffe. More frocks for less money, according to their catalogue, which gave an overview of the services offered to their sewing machine customers.
“Bluebird” tea sets and thimbles were used as enticements to purchase sewing machines. Bebarfald’s were so confident that their machines were the finest available that they offered £5 to anyone offering a practical improvement that they accepted.
Members of the City of Canada Bay Heritage Society would be aware that No. 1 Bent Street is the address of the Heritage Society’s Museum, located in the former Concord Library.
Bent Street was named for Ellis Bent (1783-1815) who, before travelling to Sydney, accepted an appointment as Deputy Judge-Advocate of N.S.W. He arrived aboard HMS Dromedary, the same ship that brought the new governor, Lachlan Macquarie. Bent became the first practising Barrister-at-Law in the Colony.
At first, relations between the two were quite cordial. At Bent’s behest, Macquarie built a brick cottage for the judge, who considered his position worthy of somewhat better accommodation and devoted his attention to improving his estate, rather than his legal duties.
Macquarie increasingly clashed with Bent over the independence of the judiciary. Eventually, Macquarie felt he could not continue to govern while his authority was challenged by Bent and wrote to the Secretary of the Colonies, Lord Bathurst, asking for a determination of whether the military or the judiciary should prevail. Bathurst backed Macquarie, but before his response could reach New South Wales, Bent died leaving a widow and four children without means of support. A fifth child was born after Bent died.
Macquarie graciously wrote again to Bathurst recommending a pension for Bent’s wife. Although somewhat unusual, it was acceded to in the circumstances, allowing Mrs Bent and her family to maintain a level of propriety suitable to their former station.
Advertisements for the auction of land from Josselyn’s Paddock in 1903 show the area along Major’s Bay Road was largely undeveloped. Referred to locally as “Hillcrest”, it later flourished with the arrival of the steam tramway. A shopping precinct soon developed along the section between Brewer and Gallipoli Streets. The area became known as Central Concord to distinguish it from other nascent suburbs.
Originally Bent Street provided a link between Wellbank and Brewer Streets, running parallel to Major’s Bay Road. The Brewer Street end was later blocked off, turning the thoroughfare into a cul-de-sac. The effect of this may have been to limit commercial development in the street, but it also created a disconnect between Bent Street and the Christian Brethren Church at No.26. Most people who are aware there is a church beside the car park, assume it is in Brewer Street. The church, however, has not moved and while the building has changed, the address has always been the same.
Bent Street was formed between 1886-1887. It was listed in the NSW Government Gazette, on 11 December 1888. Its completion was delayed by a difference in levels between Bent and Wellbank Streets as well as poor drainage at the Brewer Street end, which at the time was the upper reaches of a swamp.
In 1985 Concord Council commissioned a Local Heritage Survey to identify houses and precincts of historical, cultural, environmental or architectural significance within the municipality. The street-by-street study listed four houses in Bent Street. Since then, two of the houses have been demolished. The two remaining; Nos. 12 and 20 are increasingly rare examples of different styles of mid-Victorian architecture.
Almost aligned with Bent Street is Ellis Street. It is not quite contiguous, but then the same might be said of the man himself.
Main Photograph: The street running left to right is Wellbank Street. The first thoroughfare to the left is the lane behind shops in Majors Bay Road, the second thoroughfare is Bent Street. The house on the right-hand corner was demolished to build the Concord Citizens Centre and the Concord Library (now our Museum).
In December 1916 William Graham Eyles, a former alderman of Drummoyne, was sentenced to death in Sydney’s Central Criminal Court for the murder of his wife, Ellen, who was found hanging by a strap from a bedpost in her house in Courland Street, Five Dock.
There were signs of a struggle with numerous bruises on the deceased’s face and blood-stained bedding. The body was discovered by their daughter, Alice, who said her father had previously tried to choke her mother.
William and Ellen (Winfield) Eyles married in Ashfield in 1895. The couple had been separated for 18 months, during which time Mrs Eyles reported her husband had left her and their two daughters without means of support and had been seeing another woman. Eyles was arrested in May 1916 for failing to pay a magistrate’s order to pay maintenance to his wife. It was his second arrest for the same offence. He was fined £42 and ordered to appear the following month at Ashfield Court.
The “other woman” appeared at the coronial inquest at Burwood where she testified that she had been keeping company with William Eyles who he had proposed marriage to her. She said she was quite fond of him and had accepted his proposal to become engaged. Eyles, she claimed, had represented himself as a man of means and the two had exchanged letters of a personal nature.
When Eyles arrived at the house the day after his wife’s death he found police in attendance and asked them what the problem was. When shown his wife’s lifeless body, he suggested she must have killed herself as she had on two or three previous occasions threatened to take her own life. Eyles said he offered to take her out to cheer her up.
At the inquest, police alleged Eyles visited the house earlier to recover his lover’s letters. These were later submitted as evidence in the coronial inquest and subsequent Criminal Court trial. It was further alleged that the couple argued and Eyles then strangled his wife and tried to make it appear a suicide.
Eyles’ imprisonment and his wife’s murder left their children, Alice (aged 11) and Minnie (aged 7) without parental support. Their brother, Walter Eyles, aged 21, was currently serving overseas in the AIF. Private Eyles, a Horse Driver with the 54th Battalion, was discharged and returned to Australia to look after his sisters.
Two weeks after the trial the Court of Criminal Conviction quashed the conviction on appeal. The court held that the prosecution’s case relied on circumstantial evidence and could not discount the possibility that, although Eyles might have returned to the house earlier, this may not have been when his wife was murdered. It also found that the hearsay evidence of Eyles’ whereabouts at the time of the murder, was both inadmissible and contradictory.
The Court ordered the release of Eyles after a 4-day stay of proceedings; however, as he was leaving Long Bay Gaol, he was immediately rearrested for perjury. The Crown appealed the overturning of Eyle’s conviction and a retrial was set for March 1917. The following June the Court upheld Eyles’ conviction but commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.
Eyle’s health reportedly deteriorated while he was in gaol. In the early 1930s his friends and children petitioned the Minister of Justice, Mr Lee, for his release. The petition was not granted, however, the 1934 electoral roll for the seat of Dally, shows Eyles living in Reynolds Street, Balmain East, having resumed his former trade as a plumber. In 1936 he is shown as living in McDonald Street, Leichhardt and in 1937 in Foveaux Street, East Sydney. Eyles died in East Sydney in July 1945, survived by his three children.
While contemporary newspaper accounts frequently referred to Eyles as a former Mayor of Drummoyne, municipal records show that he served only one term as alderman in 1906
City of Canada Bay Heritage Society Inc., PO Box 152, Concord, 2137 :: Phone: 9744-8528
email: firstname.lastname@example.org :: https://www.canadabayheritage.asn.au
City of Canada Bay Museum, 1 Bent Street, Concord
Open Wed & Sat 10am to 4pm :: phone: 9743-3034 during museum hours.
Regular Guest Speakers at the museum First Saturday of each month 1:30 for 2:00 pm start