Saturday 30 November 2019

A special photograph that escaped being destroyed

     As a keen genealogist I have many family photographs that I would regard as “special”, but this is one that I wasn’t supposed to see. Nor were any other descendants of the couple who are pictured.  

      The couple were my great aunt, Florence “Florrie” Cox, and the Rev. Frank E. Paice, on the day they were married in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in December 1914. 

Both Frank Paice and Florrie Cox were Baptist missionaries from Melbourne, Australia, stationed in the early 1900s in East Bengal, now Bangladesh.  

Their marriage fell apart in scandal for two primary reasons: 1) Frank Paice had fallen for another missionary, Olga Johnston, during the two-year engagement that the church required Florrie and Frank to spend apart. 2) Florrie had a rare variation of the intersex condition, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Although she looked and felt like a woman, she had male chromosomes and no internal female organs. 

When Frank and Olga’s scandalous affair became known, both were forced to resign.  Florrie returned to Melbourne, but was a family embarrassment with the breakdown of her marriage a relentlessly taboo subject.  

The Australian press – normally addicted to such juicy stories – was prevailed upon to look the other way when the divorce went through the Supreme Court and the judge ordered that the file be “closed for all time”.  

Frank and Olga married on their return to Bengal where Frank took up an engineering management job. 

When they returned to Australia some years later, they reinvented themselves as pillars of society, with Frank taking on a number of high-profile civic positions in Melbourne.  No mention was ever made of Frank or Olga’s time in India or their six years as missionaries. Not even their only son and close friends knew of their missionary past. 

I learned of the scandal only because my mother let it slip when we came across a photograph taken just before Florrie was about to depart for her wedding in Calcutta. 

It took me 18 months of email exchanges, letters and telephone calls to get a Supreme Court judge in Melbourne to lift the ban on access to the divorce file, revealing Florrie’s condition. But nowhere could I find photographs of Frank and Florrie’s wedding as they had been destroyed by the family – probably out of embarrassment and anger 
Then I got lucky.  
A very distant cousin showed me a photograph of two people he could not identify. I was stunned to see that it was Frank and Florrie after their wedding at the Circular Road Baptist Chapel, Calcutta.  
My hunt was over thanks to a large dollop of luck, and the fact that the distant cousin's family had never been told about the scandal and didn't realise the photo's significance.  

The story of Florrie Cox and Frank Paice is told in Ian D. Richardson’s book God’s Triangle, available in paperback, Kindle and ebook HERE . 

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Travelling Down Under: How to translate Strine, Australia's national language.

The first 30 years of my life were spent in Australia and since moving to London, I have made at least one trip every year to the land of my birth. But despite the frequency of my visits, I am increasingly finding it difficult to understand the language.

It now seems that most descriptive names in Australia are reduced to words ending in “o” or “ie”.

Over the years I have become  accustomed to “arvo” (afternoon), “tinnie” (can of beer or a small tin boat), "cossie" (swimming costume) “rellie” or “rello” (a relative) and being referred to as a “journo” (journalist), but what was I to make of a headline in the Australian papers about a man’s leg being chewed off by a “saltie”? 

I found that answer only by reading well down into the story and learning that a “saltie” is a salt water crocodile. I also noted that the man with the chewed leg was in a critical condition in “hossie” (hospital).

On one recent trip, I was challenged by a large illuminated sign over a highway “Have you renewed your rego?” My immediate response was to shout: “Well, I might renew it if I knew what it was”. A friend later enlightened me. “Rego” was short for car registration, the Australian equivalent of the UK’s road tax. 

I note in recent emails the increasing use of "renos". This turns out to be the Strine short form for renovations. 

Some of this word reduction and slang is amusing, and I couldn’t help smiling when I learned some time ago that “carked it” meant that someone had died (i.e. become a carcass). On a recent trip to my homeland several people used "carked" in their conversion, such as "Did you know that old Fred had 'carked' it?" 

I also love the much-used “hoon”, the short form of hooligan, and “rort”, the term most frequently applied to phoney expenses and rip-offs by politicians (“pollies”).

What surprises me is how the slang has been adopted in recent years by Australia’s mainstream media. 

It is common, indeed usual, for Australian newspapers to refer to “firies” (firemen), ambos (ambulance drivers), and “schoolies” (drunken end-of-school-year parties).

Scanning the Australian papers on the internet the other day I also came across “tradie” (tradesman, such as plumber, electrician and carpenter), “boatie” (someone with a small boat), “yachtie” (a yachtsman) and “servo” (a motor vehicle service station).

And then there are the slang words that pop up in emails and social media postings from my friends (“mates” is preferred) and relatives (sorry, rellos) in "Godzone" (Australia): There is “bowlo” (member of a lawn bowls club), “sando” (sandwich) and “trannie” (no longer a transistor radio; now a transexual). Also, a friend reported that their child had a "tantie" (tantrum).

I received an email from a friend who apologised for failing to "corro" recently. Corro? Yes, of course. That turned out to be the short form for "correspond". He told me that he had been busy with the builders brought in to do some "renos" (renovations).

I recently tore my hamstring in a fall. I received several sympathetic emails from Australian friends in which they referred to my "hammy". 

Finally, I should tell you about a recent email in which a women friend heaped praise on her “gynie”. No doubt, by now, you will have decoded this to be a reference to her gynaecologist.

And how did the Aussie accent come about? Here are some suggestions: 

Friday 31 May 2019

Tiananmen Square: Memories of the dramatic events

Back in 1989 I was sent to Beijing to co-ordinate coverage for BBC radio of the Sino-Soviet Summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping, but the story turned out to be very different from what everyone had expected.  I quickly found myself in the midst of what turned out to be the biggest and most memorable story of my career -  the Tiananmen Square uprising. The Gorbachev-Deng summit rapidly became a sidebar story, so much so that I can't remember how it went or if the summit ever came to any agreements. 

Extracts from the diary I wrote shortly after returning to my BBC base in London are on my website HERE:

Saturday 16 March 2019

What happens when a missing WW2 warplane is found?

For many years I have wondered what would happen if someone stumbled across the wreckage of the Royal Air Force Wellington bomber that was co-flown by my uncle, Sergeant Alexander Lewis Cox of Melbourne, Australia. This was reinforced recently when I learned that the remains of a WW2 Hellcat fighter-bomber had been found with the body of the New Zealand pilot on a remote mountainside in Norway. And since writing this, there has been news of a further discovery of a WW2 plane containing the remains of a pilot.

More can be found HERE

Tuesday 26 February 2019

Back when radio was fun and called the wireless

I've just found an entertaining and informative recording of an interview I did with the Australian actor and broadcaster Ray Barrett back in December 1974. Ray, who gained international fame in the BBC TV series The Troubleshooters,  spent much of his career also working in radio in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

In the interview, Ray talked about how different radio was between the two countries and what it was like being Tarzan and many other characters in Australian radio serials.

You'll find the interview HERE.

Ray returned to his home country in the 1970s and died of a brain haemorrhage on Queensland's Gold Coast in 2009.

Wednesday 30 January 2019

What happened to Florrie Cox?

Florence Martha "Florrie" Cox and the newly-ordained Baptist missionary, the Rev. Frank E. Paice, became engaged to be married in 1912. There was much joy in the two families and at the church they both attended in Melbourne, Australia. But their honeymoon in Bengal, India, was a troubled occasion when they found it impossible to consummate the marriage for reasons neither could fully understand. So began the compelling saga of how the couple struggled to understand and cope with Florrie's condition, while fellow Baptist missionary Olga Johnston waited impatiently in the wings to snatch Frank away.

Why did the families and the church go to such lengths to hide what happened? And why did two Supreme Court judges in Melbourne order the divorce file to be sealed for all time? Ian D. Richardson, an Australian journalist who worked for many years for the BBC, was determined to learn the truth about his Great Aunt Florrie. God's Triangle is the result: a true story of revelation and betrayal.

Download the story here:   

Sunday 20 January 2019

AUSTRALIA: a surprising and wonderful museum find

An Australian friend, the Bendigo artist Gail Tavener, recently tipped me off about printing equipment she had seen in a wonderful museum at Wedderburn, a small former gold mining town (population 680 at the last census) in the state of Victoria. As she remembered that I had once trained as a printer, she wondered if I knew anything about the machines, a Linotype type-setting machine and a Heidelberg automatic printing press. I not only knew about them, but once worked on these exact machines. 

           (click on photographs to enlarge them, then Escape to go back to the story)

Back in 1961, I was employed by the Tribune weekly newspaper in the neighbouring town of Charlton when my mother sold it to Ian and Coral Cameron from Wedderburn. Ian's father had owned the Wedderburn Express but had sold it to a solicitor, Eric Shackleton "Shack" Bailey and printer John Somerville. The Express had, since its inception in the 1800s, been entirely handset, but "Shack" and John modernised the operation by buying an Intertype (also known as a Linotype) and a Heidelberg printing machine. Ian Cameron decided to loan me to the Express for a few days each week to teach John Somerville how to use the equipment.

As I was on a visit to my homeland last month, I was able to call at the museum to be greeted by Denise Nichols and her enthusiastic and friendly colleagues. It was a delight to be shown around and reunited with the equipment that was part of my life so many decades ago.

Ian D. Richardson, Linotype

The Intertype/Linotype (above) and the Heidelberg (below)

The old type cases, and on the right is the roller that printed the proof sheets

Denise Nichols opens a tin of biscuits with the biscuits still intact, sort of, and below are some of the displays in the grocery shop that was frozen in time.

    Finally, CLICK HERE for more details.