Five Ways to Remember: Meals at Trelawny

You, that is if you were under forty and were a guest at my grandfather’s table, were not allowed to laugh outright or for that matter, even giggle. If you were under thirty you had to wear the mask of a sphinx no matter what clean clerical joke was cracked.

It always seemed a little odd to me that on the seventh day there had to less humanity in the house than there was on the other six.  Not that is to say that there was much fun and games for the young from Monday at 1 am (if you were up) till Saturday 12 mid. during the week.  It was just that if you felt like smiling on the sabbath you just daren’t.

Bill and Jack Pidgeon in the backyard of their home at 290 Glenmore Rd, Paddington, c.1915

Grandma who always wore a great collar which was distinguished by its height and purity of whale boned lace, always saw fit to give my brother a good clip under the ear whenever he passed.  Why Jack never learnt to pass her underneath the table or beneath the throne she held court on is still beyond me.  Not that Jack did anything very much. Being four years older than I, he couldn’t sense the danger of just being around.  I suppose his Eton collar and the fact that he sang in the choir sort of gave him (falsely in his own view) an air of sanctity which Grandma always failed to discern.

The clips on the ear Jack always earned for the little things he might have done or even thought of doing, but never had the hardihood to do.  For the things I would have liked to do Jack got two clips.

So it was that Jack always smothered up in a neutral corner when Grandma was around.

Grandpa was beyond all this.  He just sat and ate and ate and bemoaned his lack of appetite.

His theatrical indifference to food never seemed to dim his awareness of what was going on or off the plates to the right and left of his august presence.

One dreadful 1st Sunday before Pentecost our hired help foolishly skidded her meat  and peas on his lap.

If this girl ever had a name, that is immaterial.  Today she is probably wrestling under the name of Big Chief Thunderplate or another latin alias.  Although young, she had an extraordinarily powerful jaw which was never really clean shaven.  The mole, which on another face would be called a beauty spot. remained untrimmed.

A few weeks after she tipped her Sunday dinner on the lap she went completely to pieces & either stayed out on a tram or sat on a gas box till 10 pm.

[W.E. Pidgeon]

Five Ways to Remember: Grandpa

John White, Wep's grandfather, c.1923
John White, Wep’s grandfather, c.1923 – born 1851 in East Looe, Cornwall, he was a Master Builder and former president of the Master Builders’ Association. He built many of the beautiful terrace buildings around Paddington including Paddington Town Hall. He served as an Alderman on Paddington Council from 1884-1913 and was elected Mayor in 1892. He was also the founder and first president of the Cornish Men’s Association.

I reckon that Grandpa was quite a character. He seemed always a bit like God to me. Not that his beard was over flowing and lustrous like the high cumulus that came over Taronga.

Grandpa always sat at the top of the table in the big kitchen and regularly complained about his lack of appetite.

Grandpa suffered no ills. Apart from lack of appetite which was cured at meal times – he suffered only the livings of cold weather.  These afflict the ageing and the thin like me, the un-diesel heated, the Grandpas. I suppose it was really Isabella Garrick McRitchie, his dour Scots wife who had the nostrum for all ills. Her recipes for cold agues had the genius of simplicity.

Grandpa wore, what Grandma sewed. A two inch bandage of red flannel around each wrist.  This was an infallible preventative against goose flesh and wintry shivers, and so far as Grandpa went it worked. We’d sit shivering over some bread and dripping and marvel over his pulse warmed vigour as his flashing crimson wrists downed with gusto a Scots Irish Stew.

I really think it was more a psychological matter thing than a good old viable commercial. Somewhere in the boggy ice ages Dracula had got to Scotland. The keen old biddies knew that if you had bloody looking red flannelled, medial tuberosities of the radius wrists – he’d be confused and drop you as a pass-over has-been, a very traumatic connection twice done-over somewhere about those thin blue veins on the inner sides of his wrists and consuming teeth.

It must have had something to do with the night he baby-sat me. God knows where Grandma was but I’m in the double bed with Grandpa paradisaically night shirted and me trendy in pyjamas. It was a handsome four posted cedar mausoleum with a horsehair mattress as soft as a concrete slab. Grandpa slept with the sonority of a Bach fugue.

I don’t know whether it was the austerity of repose or if dreams of vampires which woke me in terror.  I felt I was being masticated or impaled with an oaken shaft.  Awake, upright as the cold moonlight, my fears were resolved unheard.

It all came clear and simple in the cold light of the moon.  Rationality triumphed, cause and effect were vindicated as I unhooked his dentures off my flesh and slid them gently back beneath his pillow.

I hadn’t expected that – mostly they sat overnight on the mantelpiece keeping a purposeful vigil from their tumbler full of water.

[W.E. Pidgeon]

John White, W.E. Pidgeon [c. 1927]
Painted when Wep was 18, this is one of Wep’s earliest portraits.

“John White.” SYDNEY’S ALDERMEN Accessed 8 Feb. 2023.

Five Ways to Remember: Grandma’s Funeral

Wep’s maternal grandmother, Isabella Garrick White, nee McRitchie (1853-1924), c.1916

[19 September 1924]

WHITE .—The Relatives and Friends of Mr. JOHN WHITE, Master Builder, are kindly invited to attend the Funeral of his late beloved WIFE, Isabella Garrick, which will leave her late residence, “Trelawny”, Gurner-street, Paddington, THIS FRIDAY, at 3 p.m., for the Church of England Cemetery, Waverley.
CHARLES KINSELA, Funeral Director,
‘Phone, Padd. 694., 143 Oxford-street. Sydney.

WHITE.—The Relatives and Friends of Mr. and Mrs. JOHN A. WHITE, EDWARD C. WHITE, HARRY F. WHITE, Mrs. T. J. PIDGEON, Mr. and Mrs. S. E. PATERSON are kindly invited to attend the Funeral of their late beloved MOTHER,- Isabella Garrick Whlte, which will leave her late residence, Trelawny, Gurner street, Paddington, THIS FRIDAY, at 3 p.m., for Church of England Cemetery, Waverley.

WHITE.—The Relatives and Friends of Mr. D. MCRITCHIE, Mr. ROBERT MCRITCHIE, Mrs. R. THEW, Mrs. F. CROWE, Mrs. J. MCRITCHIE, Mr. and Mrs. McLEAN, Mr. and Mrs. E. CARR. Mr. and Mrs. CAMEREAUX, Mr. ROBERT MACKEY, and Mr. JAMES MACKEY are kindly invited to attend the Funeral of their late beloved SISTER and AUNT, Isabella Garrick White, which will leave her late residence, Trelawny, Gurner-street, Paddington, THIS FRIDAY, at 3 p.m., for the Church of England Cemetery, Waverley.

Family Notices (1924, September 19). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from

WHITE.— September 18, 1924, at her late residence, “Trelawny,” Gurner Street, Paddington. Isabella Garrlck, dearly beloved wife of John White, and mother of William, Frederick, Thlrza, John, Edward, Harry, Percy, Isabella, and Blanche, aged 71 years.

Family Notices (1924, September 19). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 6. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from

Grandma was dead.  It must have been in the morning sometime in December [sic] because I was given some money to go to the pantomime down at Tivoli. What the pantomime was about, or its name and its impact on me remains securely forgotten, rotting away in some remote and atrophied cell of the brain.

Amy Rochelle could have been the Principal Boy. Principal boys were always girls anyway and Amy Rochelle boarded with us once.  So maybe a little boy was sent off to see the big girl boy he knew while the family went about the duties attendant to the proper care of the dead.

Funerals were always a big occasion in those days. Uncles, aunts, cousins, even down to the fourth remove would congregate at “Trelawny” while the men went off to do the right thing at Waverley Cemetery, the women busied themselves in the preparation of sandwiches, tea, fruit cake and the inevitable port wine to refresh the returning mourners.

Glasses of the ale too were served under the dancing shadows of the grape vine trellis to the convivial grievers.

All those garrulous relatives, complete strangers flushed out of obscurity by death mingled in monetary bonhomie and parted till death again did them join.  I suppose there were extra trams on these great days – no one had a car.

It was 1924 when “Trelawny” first housed a motor vehicle.

Uncle Sep, a devastatingly handsome and successful dentist had married Aunty Bella.  They lived at “Trelawny” and looked after Grandpa White.

Somewhere along the line, the old dray, the buggy and the mad town (carriage) had been sold to more rural folk.  The old carriage house was taken over by the Dodge.  Uncle Sep’s friends had successfully updated and hard-sold him into switching from trams to a car.  I was appointed car-washer and mechanic. Like all young boys, I knew more about cars than it is possible to know.  I was constantly tuning the engine from perfection to imperfection. If anything was right I’d fix it.

L-R: Bill’s mother Thirza Pidgeon (nee White), Bill Pidgeon (in car), Sep Paterson (Bill’s dentist uncle), Ted Paterson and his mother, Isabella Rose (nee White) and possibly Sep’s brother with Sep’s 1924 Dodge Brothers Four Door Tourer car

Still we used to go so far as Windsor or Katoomba at speeds of up to 45 mph and have picnics on the running board  safe from bull ants and other bushland horrors.

I learnt to drive it like a kangarooish motion. All very safe for the streets were as vast and “unencumbered” as the only hazards on the Nullabor Plain.

[W.E. Pidgeon]

[In 1925, Wep was employed as a Cadet Newspaper Artist for the Evening News and Sunday News, after his dentist Uncle Sep “armed with forceps and needles ‘intimidated’ his patient”, editor of the paper, Marmion Dart.]

Five Ways to Remember: Grand Plants

That tuck-shop and residence opposite the school gate has not changed its shape in sixty years.  The weatherboards and the paint of what is left of it are still as they were when the Thomson widow ran it.  Of course it had to all come back in a gush of memory.  Nowhere else in recent years have I seen the small sunflower stretching in glory to the face of being.  Only here in the weedy ground have I seen the remnants of old time proliferation of sunfire blaze. Everywhere, sunflowers bright like the burst of color of coreopsis in bloom along the north shore line.

Long ago, before Van Gogh made the big ones commonplace, we as small children would stare up to the swaying sol six feet above and with a face as big as a soup plate – bending over the fences to radiate a joy to small children in the shadows of the lanes.  Sunflower and chokos over bore the tattered fences – the sunflowers were gay – we got sick of chokoes and chops.  The little sunflower plants had leaves like the feel of a cat’s tongue, raspy on the skin the loving tactile semblance of a sedge tooth file.

There used to be the depths of night shaped into gramophone horns adorning the more neglected lanes. With our bited dogs we passed the convolvulus bells with siren tendrils clutching at our throats.  In the twilight, the vibrant blue weeds of our back yards. I never remember ever seeing a frangipani or hibiscus or any other modern exotica.  There were scents of the evening – perhaps we were too young to notice the small white jasmines or the occasional tuberoses. Red geraniums, yes everywhere in little window boxes – not children’s flowers at all – very adult.

Arum lilies and cannas yes (mostly around the semi detached) -seemed to lend a glory to the necessities of human functions.

Who was not enabled on the way back from the out-house by the soft lick of the lily leaves and a fairy touch brush across the face of the asparagus fern?

My Grandmother had grape vines which bore somewhat edible fruit.  She had too, a sturdy clump of verbena shrub. Somehow this seemed to go along with her personality extremely well.

On Sunday afternoons after being let out of Sunday School we would aimlessly roam around the cabbage patch (fenced off of course) past the manure bin through the carriage paint shops (as those sheds were called) all mucky & soiled. A good fistful of verbena leaves crushed up in smelly hands.  How those verbena leaves reminded me of Grandma.

Just like carraway seed cake.  You’d have to have been born in 1860 to have acquired a taste for that.  Sunday afternoon tea was a bloody trial. Carraway seed cake and Sao biscuits, or Thin Captain. Perhaps we were given lemonade – if we had been, the occasions have left no impact on my junior memories.

Only one other plant ever impressed me.  Grandpapa’s glossy tree on the 3’ x 4’ lawn in front of “Trelawny”.  Grandpapa used to sit on the gas bar during the dusk  and note the comings and goings of the locals.  Everyone was on foot just like in a communist city. This tree, or shrub, was not more than three times taller than I. Looking from underneath its leaves were dull and undistinguished but from the verandah they were miraculously transformed bright green and glossy as a cerebric glaze. It was a very formal affair & impressive but never to the day has it had a name or a signature of being.  Perhaps it is still there – I should look again.

Trelawny (1896), 11 Gurner Street, the home of Wep’s grandfather, John White, master builder and Mayor of Paddington at the cnr Gurner and Duxford St Paddington, c.1920

[W.E. Pidgeon]

Five Ways to Remember: Bishop Gaslamp Lighter

From round Goodhope Street and down by McCaffrey’s (or was it Stoddard’s) place he would come in the settling mist. It was colder and darker in the early winter. We had ceased play, even old Warder had given up his dismal barking, his sniffing at the old cast-iron lampposts. Huddled in anticipation of the new world, we awaited his coming. Mr. – I cannot dredge up with name but to us, he was a real mister, almost a bishop.

His silhouette against the last gas lamp he had lighted, greater, closer and bigger in the full dusk – until he greeted his tiny congregation. With his crook he would pull on the light. Down Hoddle Street and up around to Lawson Street we followed. The admiring flock, the bishop of the young and the lighter up of the lamps existed only for our particular joy and wonderment.

Always the shadows marched east from Goodhope Street. It didn’t matter whether it was winter or summer, those shadows marked the creeping end of day, finally to engulf the short valley of Hoddle Street with twilight yet leaving to the last moment the repossession of the golden light on the school and the tips of the terraces on the odd side of Glenmore Road.

Sometimes we children were quick and naughty enough to anticipate the elderly lamp lighter – yet mostly we seemed to follow him in a religious rite of observance to his ritual motions of the crook which brought the gas to light on the corners of our territory. We followed the soft effulgent glows so far as Cascade Street and called the ceremony a day, or better speaking a night.

Crickets and cicadas gave the drone notes to our shrill childish cadenzas as we marched back to a wash and something hot to eat.

[W.E. Pidgeon]

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