Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The Goolmangar church formed a focus of community life. Father Smith lived in the presbytery next to the church, so we had Mass every Sunday, unlike some rural communities. As I have said, the area was populated with a great many Catholics of Irish descent. We’d hang around after Mass, the adults gossiping and the kids running around the parked cars, until rumbling tummies sent us home to breakfast –of course, we had been fasting since midnight, despite having milked a herd of cows. I was now head altar boy, very proud of the hem of four inches of lace on my white surplice, worn over my red soutane. One morning, during the sermon, I accidentally hit the gong used to signal the consecration. Fr Smith announced, “Well, looks like I’ve got the gong,” and promptly concluded the sermon. But he was a real nutter with a fiery Irish temper. If he walked into the sacristy and flung his bag and papers on to the table, I knew we were in for a bumpy ride. Then some commotion flared up and he became aware that some parishioners were not happy with him. After Mass he promptly placed his chair centre stage, before the blessed tabernacle, sat himself down in full regalia, amice, alb, cincture, chasuble, the lot and demanded someone tell him what the problem was. As my brother Robert also recalls, he harangued and ranted away for a long time. I don’t think anyone else spoke – after all, you were never to talk in church, apart from reciting the prayers. I think that’s the last we saw of him. We had visiting priests for a while.

During these years, many Italians, mostly single men, or with families back in Italy, had arrived on the north coast of NSW. They rented small acreages on the high, non-pasture bits of the farms, where they built small sheds and cultivated and grew bananas. They didn’t assimilate with us, though there was no animosity. They spoke little English and none of us had a word of Italian. The Lismore Bishop (Farrelly?) was concerned for their religious wellbeing, so two priests of the Scallabrini order were appointed to Goolmangar parish.. They were an Italian order with a specific brief to minister to Italians abroad. Our two, Frs Miazzi and Molon were delightfully young and modern and soon the choir was singing very jazzy hymns that I’m not sure even Bishop Farrelly would have approved of. But they were much livelier than the dreary “Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest”, “Hail Queen of Heaven” and the dreadful “Faith of Our Fathers” we had been droning out for years. Church life had become buzzy and breezy again.

Dick Mazzer drove the Kirklands school bus from Nimbin to Lismore each morning and back again in the afternoon. As I have written elsewhere, from about the age of 14 I used to drive my brothers and the neighbour kids down to the turnoff to catch this bus. Then Kirklands, no doubt in a money-making move, decided to put me out of business with a shuttle minibus service of their own. This was driven by Mrs Mazzer, an out-and-out vile bitch. She obviously hated the job, hated kids (she had none) and spent every journey telling us to sit up and shut up. I complained to Mum and Dad, but they did nothing.

Three major family milestones occurred during our years on the farm – two happy, one very sad. I’ll let Dad tell you about them:

...On July 25th 1954 John (my older, half-brother) was ordained a priest in St Carthages Cathedral Lismore. A really great occasion. I think we supplied 14 muscovy ducks to help with the reception (held on the farm). These Pauline and Mac (Blewitt) cleaned and dressed and the neighbours helped with the cooking. He said his first Mass in our little Goolmangar church...

...Prior to this on the 26th of May 1955, there was great excitement when Dorothy (my only sister) was born. After three sons we were hoping for a daughter, and since she was the first grand daughter after 7 grand sons, the Byrne family were very elated...

My half-sister Nanette and her husband Alan lived with us on the farm after marrying in January 1956. They later returned to live in Sydney. Now the sad story:

...their baby Anne was born on the 10th of September 1956. Then tragedy raised its ugly head once more. On the Sunday Anne was christened, her mother Nanette took ill. She suffered a severe haemorrhage. She was admitted to Ryde hospital. They tried unsuccessfully to stop the bleeding. This made x-ray useless. They assumed the trouble was being caused by a disrupted stomach ulcer, and on that assumption about the end of the week they decided to operate. Unfortunately their assumption was wrong. Instead they found she had a malformation of the veins in the stomach. These had burst. They were not prepared for this situation, and not geared to handle it, so the operation had to be abandoned. John was holidaying with us at the time so he and I flew down. She was then moved to St Vincent’s, where in spite of the best medical skill available she died a week later on the 14th of October 1956...

Dad married his first wife, Frances Hatton, in 1930. In due time along came John, Pattie and Nanette. But two tragedies were hovering. In 1936, aged almost four years, Pattie fell from a trellis in the garden. She hit the back of her head on a rock and died instantly. Three years later a flu epidemic hit the area and Frances succumbed to double pneumonia and died. So now Dad had lost a wife and two daughters. Anne, Nanette’s baby, would never know her mother. But today she is a wonderful wife and mother herself and we love her madly.

No comments:

Post a Comment