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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside...

I don't have any photos of photographers or cartoon style cats, but I do have lots of pictures of people and beaches. Here in Australia we take the glorious golden sand at most of our beaches for granted, and are horrified at much of what the English call the seaside - gravelly, pebbly, rocky grey sand that you couldn't walk on without shoes, let alone lie back and sunbathe on a towel, although somehow the locals seem to do just that. Alternatively they lounge about sunning themselves  in deckchairs under a pale sun. At some English beaches I've visited  the children were making mud castles, rather than sand castles like this lovely one snapped at St Kilda beach Melbourne earlier this year!

So what to choose for this week's blog topic? I decided to be rather self-indulgent and to display a few more of the photos from pages of the scrapbook my mother made for me as a momento of our year in England from 24 October 1953 to 1 January 1955, when my father was on a research fellowship at Cambridge.

Jean and Joanna visit Gt Gt Aunty Kitt and her friend Hetty, in August 1954
In the summer of 1954 Dad, Mum and I went down to Margate Kent, to visit my father's Great Aunty Kitt. Kate Annie Byles was Dad's grandfather Thomas Alfred Byles' youngest sister. Thomas was born in 1863 in Mile End London, and according to family legend he left home in his early teens and stowed away aboard a ship called the Rakaia, bound for New Zealand. He was certainly living at home with his parents and siblings at the time of the 1871 census, but by 1881 he was not to be found either with the family or elsewhere in England. The Rakaia made voyages to NZ in 1878 and 1879, but I haven't yet managed to discover any documentation confirming that Thomas was made to work as a cabin boy when discovered on board, or that he was kept on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour until he was of age, but nor does he appear on any passenger list that I can find. Apparently Thomas told my aunt that he ran away because he didn't like his father's new wife, but the evidence does not bear this out. His parents George William Byles and Mary Catherine Daw were first cousins, who were married in 1847 and in fact remained together until George's death in October 1889, which occurred just a couple of weeks before son Thomas was married in Wellington NZ. Brother Alexander, a ship's steward, was a witness to the wedding. Alexander travelled the world and eventually settled in NZ himself. Born in 1871, Kate must only have been around seven or eight at most when her brother Thomas left home, and she never saw him again.  He died in 1951, but must have kept in touch with his English family. Consequently in 1954 my parents were able to meet his youngest sister Kate, the last surviving member of George and Mary Catherine's twelve children. She never married, and passed away in 1958. Hopefully she enjoyed the visit of her great nephew and great great niece. I think she must have been the only 'great' relative I ever actually met!
10 Holly Lane  Margate, home of Kate Byles, 1954

I'm not sure which half of this house belonged to Miss Byles, but as this street view below snipped from Google maps shows, it has changed little in almost 60 years.

Just in case  you're wondering about the relevance of all this to the topic, here it comes: 
After visiting Great Great Aunty Kitt, Mum, Dad and I headed down to the seaside to enjoy the 'leisure and pleasure' offered there.

Enjoying  icecreams at the beach - yum! Note my Dad did not feel any need to remove either his shoes, his jacket or even his tie.
Testing the water
Mum's caption here reads: "Joanna demands a donkey ride!"
 I think the donkey looks happy too.
Donkeys were a beach attraction at Margate for 118 years, and it was the first beach to have them. In 2008 they were retired, due to illness in the donkey owner's family. A Daily Mail news item about their history can be read here.  When I visited Margate again in 2009, the town and its beach were looking rather depressed and neglected, but it seems the donkeys are back again now and hopefully the seaside town of Margate  has also been revived. Unlike most English beaches, it does have the attraction of good sand!

Visiting in May 2009, we practically had Margate beach to ourselves

Which way to ...?

Deckchairs and Sunbeds,  For your Leisure and Pleasure, as the sign says

In the scrapbook Mum also pasted these two postcards together with the snaps, and there's even a piece of seaweed that has been preserved all this time.

I love those chalky white cliffs

To finish, here are some views of one of my favourite Australian beaches, at Hawks Nest on the mid north coast of  NSW,  where we are lucky enough to have a beach unit. There's a 15 km stretch of sandy beach, if you care for a stroll. Margate, eat your heart out!

Winda Woppa, Hawks Nest NSW
View to Cabbage Tree Island from Bennetts Beach Hawks Nest

 Looking along Bennetts Beach to Yaccaba Headland 

Now for more subjective seaside reflections, just kick off your shoes and socks and head on over to Sepia Saturday 


  1. I love your Mum's dress in the pictures. I like dresses & blouses with large colorful prints. Wish I knew what the colors in her dress were. As for the last 3 pix of Australian beaches - the sand looks so soft I could almost feel my feet sinking into it!

  2. I would like to go for donkey ride on the beach.

  3. How wonderful that you were able to meet the last surviving member of part of your dad's family. Amazing that Miss Byles' home looks so similar today to the time when she lived there. Unfortunately for us in the US, that thing called "progress" often produces empty spaces or parking lots for me when I use Google maps to look at an address from my family's past.

    Enjoyed your post.


  4. Me too! What fun this was, reading through, your photos, fun times for sure, and what wonderful postcards too!

  5. You're so early this week, you're putting me to shame!

    That photo of you and your father with the ice creams is just priceless.

    I have a soft spot for donkeys, so I really enjoyed those ones as well.

    Lovely post. Aunt Kitty and Hetty looked a stalwart pair.

  6. Love the before and after shots of Margate...same buildings in the background; you're a little older, though! Great post!

  7. Wow, you were a very cute little child Jo! Love the curls. And I think that Australia has some of the best beaches in the world!

  8. Isn't Winda Woppa a wonderful name!
    The pressed seaweed is amazing. I have a friend who presses seaweed for identification (citizen science) and they look stunningly beautiful.

  9. Beaches around the world!
    I must find Winda Woppa next time we are 'up the coast' (from Sydney) - looks pretty good.
    Good luck finding out more about Thomas

    1. Winda Woppa is on the northern shore of Port Stephens, across the water from the much more populated tourist hub of Nelson Bay. We can look across and be thankful we are on the other side - much more peaceful and relaxing! Although since moving from Sydney to Melbourne 8 years ago, it's not so easy to get up there very often.

  10. I love that your mother retained the postcards and the seaweed. So perhaps you take after your mother in that respect?

    1. Not to the same extent, although i do have a fair few photo albums, some with added memorabilia of trips etc that are fun to look back through, and more recently I've been getting those photobooks made up - so easy to do them online with digital photos, although choosing which shots to include is often the hardest part.

  11. Great memories and mementos. Looks like your Dad didn't even bother to help entertain his very cute daughter.

  12. Interesting comparison of beaches. And what an intriguing story about Thomas.

  13. Going to the beach is one of my favorite things to do. My daughter tells me people from Florida sneer at Georgia beaches, even though our sand looks and feels fine to me. Can't imagine a beach with rocky sand!

  14. These shots are so remininscent of some of my own from that era. My own Dad is wearing suit and shoes in a beach photo too. My theory was that we’d just driven miles in the car to get there and he was still in his ‘normal’ clothes; perhaps the same was true of yours. I especially love the donkey shots and nearly posted mine but I’m keeping them in reserve.

  15. Oh, you are a naughty girl, criticizing those lovely pebbly English beaches. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to set up donkey rides on one of our Australian beaches. I'm sure the govt would come up with some health and saftey, ecological, save the red-nosed crab, etc, etc objections. but kids would love them. Great post.

    1. Well I have ridden a horse in an organised ride on the beach down Mornington Peninsula way, and of course there are camel rides at places like Cable Beach WA, and also at Port Stephens just north of Newcastle.

  16. After reading your post I feel the need to empty the sand from my shoes. Shouldn't Australian beaches have kangaroos for children to ride?

  17. You obviously haven't seen may English beaches in the SW and the NE - some of the best are in Northumberland. Mind you we can't match the Aussie weather.

  18. I always admire a person who can assemble an interesting scrap book like this. It's quite an art.