Family Gathering 2003

Memories of the 86th Anniversary Gathering

by David Hume
6 February 2003

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The setting for the gathering of the Lawrence clan was the Church and Church Hall where Pop and Jo were married, just over 86 years previously. Thankfully, the record 44.1oC temperatures of the day before were alleviated by a cool change, and it was a perfect day. The hall was set up with all of the prints of ancestors, and old pictures of all of the marriages of Pop and Jo’s children, and of all the cousins alone or in various family groups decorating one wall. A cascade of familiar faces turned up in dribs and drabs, along with their offspring, some of them instantly recognisable and attributable and others showing hybrid traits that might even echo other families! There were also significant numbers of “taggers-on” who might one day contribute to our gene pool. With Jane Furphy’s little ones, Harry and Charlie, present there were 4 generations, and around 70 people. The Bill Lawrences were all together for the first time since Uncle Bill’s funeral, a photo opportunity not to be missed. Ginnie told John Lawrence that this would be a one-off occasion, and he should make the effort, and he did drive across from Adelaide the night before, picking up son Guy in Ballarat on the way. Sadly, the Hume clan was least represented, with Jim and Sue not able to come, and Trish and Graeme pulling out at the last minute because of the bushfires in Canberra. Michael Lawrence was up in Queensland (but all of his family made it) and Janet Hume in Tamworth. 17/21 was a pretty good effort.

With the arrival of Uncle Steve, without whom the day would have been incomplete, we all moved into the Church accompanied by the strains of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” played by Cate Furphy on the organ, a tune that many of us associate with Pop (he used to play it on the piano beautifully – Jo said it sounded to her like a hurdy gurdy!). Katie Lawrence welcomed us, and spoke of her motive in seeking a “sense of belonging”. Susan Gribben, another driving force, spoke of the importance of Pop and Jo in her life and highlighted the many aspects of our shared family culture that flow through them to our generations and hopefully beyond.

Uncle Steve was asked to say a few words especially about his father. Displaying the sense of humour we all love him for, he started with the warning that he never indulged in gossip, so we had better listen carefully as he would only say this once.

Steve reminded us that Pop was the product of another time. He had a fundamental notion of honour, obligation and dedication to his profession. He was undertaking his Medical training at the outbreak of WW1. Steve recalled Bunt saying that there may have been smarter people in Pop’s medical course, but there was no-one who worked harder than Arthur. He finished second in his year, and was offered a place for graduate training/residency at Royal Melbourne Hospital. However, many of his peers, including his brother Bunt, had “flocked like lemmings” to the War, and Pop felt a strong obligation to join them. He chose to go to Geelong for training that took only 3 months, to avoid a further delay.

Another example of his sense of honour occurred after the war in Glasgow when he visited the Warden of the college the day before his examination for FRCS. The warden left the room and Pop realised that the Warden had left the examination on his desk. When the Warden returned, Pop was very angry and said that under the circumstances, he would be unable to sit the exam next day. He was not able to sit again for another six months.

Steve told us about Pop establishing his medical specialty in ophthalmic surgery in the very early days of such procedures, when cataract surgery involved the removal of the lens and substitution with very, very thick glasses. (He had told Susan and myself that Pop was very meticulous with his surgical instruments. By contrast to modern times, when scalpels come pre-packaged, Pop had a large set of finely forged surgical knives which constantly required re-sharpening. This required sending them off to England. Upon their return, he would test them by slicing a piece of pig hide (?), and if they failed the test, the entire batch was returned). Pop was said to be a remarkable diagnostician, reaching a conclusion in minutes (perhaps skills honed in the horror of triage in the war).

Steve also reminded us of Pop’s many loves and talents, especially for music, chess, cards and the horses. He also talked of his quiet temperament, balanced by his ability to stand up for himself and intimidate if necessary. One anecdote related to his much-loved Bentley car. Whilst driving one day he came to a halt and one of his passengers opened a near-side door to encounter a pair of policemen riding up the curbside on their motorcycles. The policemen proceeded to roundly abuse Pop and his passengers in unbecoming language. Pop listened, and as the police prepared to leave he said words to the effect of “ Listen here. I have noted your numbers. You two have just been extremely rude to me and my family. These two are my witnesses. If you are not at my house to apologise at 9AM tomorrow, you will be two very sad young fellows”. They came!

Steve recalled for us the later part of Pop’s life. He remembered that Pop had angina, and a minor heart attack and Steve was very concerned. Pop said to Steve; “Don’t you worry about me. I am not afraid of death, I confronted it many times, many years ago”.

Steve spoke about those who could not be with us. His brother, Uncle Bill, and brother-in-law Graham Anderson who have both passed away. He recalled Graham as a lovely gentle man. With a catch in the throat, he reminded us that the Lawrences are an emotional lot. He also recalled Auntie Sue, who was a very important part of his early life and a major contributor to the household since she remained in the family home for more than 10 years after Paddy left and married. He told of Sue tucking him in at night, reading him stories and chasing away the demons at bed time. Also of Sue going down to the Athenaeum Library to get books for Jo, and being berated if she brought home anything that Jo had already read. Finally, he spoke of Uncle Jim, who joined the family through Jo’s work with the Seaman’s mission during WW2 as a very young man who had already seen several years of the war, and of how Jim and Pop developed a special affinity for each other.


In conclusion, Steve looked around the assembled group and remembered that Pop and Jo both valued the family and loved family occasions, and he felt they would have been happy and proud to see us all together.

This was followed by the singing of the hymn “Dear Lord and father of Mankind”, Pop’ s favourite hymn, which was played at his funeral. There are some fine voices amongst the clan, put to good effect to fill the chapel, but this is a peaceful hymn, with very evocative lyrics, of which the last line “Oh still small voice of calm” probably appealed most to Pop.

With considerable input from Robert Gribben, I had assembled a family history and genealogy of the clan, and copies were distributed to all the 20 cousin’s families. Some of that information was rendered obsolete by the remarkable discovery by Auntie Paddy of a Slade family tree written in Pop’s own hand! I talked about some of the highlights of the genealogy search, and plans for a future family web site to preserve memories and photographs. Also of the importance of Pop and Jo in the lives of my Mum and Dad (Sue and Jim) and of the Melbourne family in my own life.

This was followed by a short prayer of thanks for our shared heritage and family read by Tess Anderson.

We finished with a second hymn, one of Jo’s favourites; “The king of love my Shepherd is” ; a reworking of the 23rd Psalm, which Jo was also fond of.

We adjourned to the hall for an afternoon of eating, drinking and reminiscing. Geoff Lawrence, a pipe smoker himself, reminded me of one of Pop’s foibles. Jo was never fond of the smell of cigars, but the house had such a strong aroma of cigar smoke that I have ever since associated cigars with Cotham Rd. Pop responded to Jo’s complaints about his cigars in the house by staying away more from the house, and smoking in the garden or his Bentley (which reeked of cigars). Late in life he was told by his doctor to give up smoking cigars and take up a pipe instead (the theory was he would smoke less and puff not inhale!). However, it was just not the same, so Pop hit upon the solution of slicing his large Rittmeester cigars into pipe-size pieces and all soon realised what he was doing!

All the talking did not do much to enthrall the younger generation, many of whom went off to the park to play a bit of cricket and perhaps to commiserate. Friendships were struck up, and e-mail addresses exchanged….

As the first started to leave, we realised the need to record the day, and many photos of the assembled multitude were taken on the steps of the church. Families slowly drifted off, many of the taggers on and long-suffering in-laws pitched in to the clean up, while their spouses continued “familying” (this should be a word). Finally the last moments came with many hugs, congratulations and feelings that really do fit the description of “warm fuzzies” and it was done.

I drove back to Brisbane with Malcolm and cousin Geoff, first stop at Colbinabbin for a bit more familying with Kate and Clem; then the long drive through drought-ravaged western NSW and Queensland. Of course it was worth it, and there should be more of it.


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