Island Blood

By Leon Panapa

In 2002 I cut my left lower leg on tropical coral whilst walking through a reef. The cut stung and it bled into the ocean. It hurt but I managed to persevere and manage the scrapes and cuts. It happened on the island of Tokelau, the birthplace of my grandmother.

The blood of the island Tokelau runs through my nana Ane, through my father Sam and into me. She told me she had cut herself on the coral that makes up the beautiful reef surrounding Tokelau many times as a child growing up on one of the remotest islands in the Pacific.

My grandmother Ane Munro nee Fakaofo was born on Fakaofo atoll, Tokelau. An island 150km off Samoa in the middle of the pacific the only thing smaller than the population there is the minute landmass that is engulfed by the ocean. Nana’s journey to where she is now is one of navigation, which becomes more curious as we grow older and show similar traits in our travels. The fruit never falls far from the tree or in this case the coconut never falls far from the palm.  Allow me to elaborate.

You see, my grandmother at eight years old was thrown aboard a boat from Tokelau to Samoa, where her new life would begin. Crying and wailing for her parents on the boat, nana was being sent to Samoa not only for a new life off the island but for my great grandmother’s sister’s sake who lived in Samoa and was married to a German man. It was there nana grew up working as a cleaner and a maid in the richest hotels on the island of Samoa.

At the age of 30, she was pregnant with my father and had heard of the opportunity in New Zealand. At the time NZ was immigrating swarms of pacific islanders to boost the labour force at the time known as the great Polynesian migration. Nana was no stranger to being thrown into the deep end so she boarded a flight to NZ with my father in her belly in search of new lands, new opportunities, and to blossom what her parents originally wanted for her when they boarded her onto the boat to Samoa.

Nana had little family in New Zealand but nothing hit harder than the cold winter months of July and August to someone who had lived in the tropical heat. My father was born and well my nana started life in New Zealand where she had her own alteration business on Karangahape Road in Ponsonby Auckland.

The move my grandmother made from moving to NZ paid off dividends. My father was athletic and took to the game of rugby league. It started off innocent as it could, only for fun and to make friends. Whoever would have thought he would go on to play professional rugby league for NZ and Tokelau landing him a career in the United Kingdom with wonder club, Wigan in Lancashire. I was still a young child when we left Nana in NZ to live in England but soon enough, she came to stay in the far north, tides away from Tokelau.

Nana has lived with my parents ever since. After my Dads career in the UK, we returned to NZ. This is where I enter the story, I was nine years old returning to NZ from the UK, and whilst mum and dad were working, nana looked after us kids a lot.

The strange thing is like nana, I too left my family nest in search of greater opportunity. At the young age of 17, I left Auckland, New Zealand and came to Brisbane, Australia. A hot and humid land where I pursued this brutal sport called Rugby League. My parents had bought the air ticket and I had little family here in Australia but the heat hit the hardest. Sound familiar?

It’s at this point where I think sometimes – Your ancestors live through you, and I keep thinking back to that cut I suffered from the coral in Tokelau when my family took nana back to visit. I was 13 at the time and there were times when strange things happened to not only me but to my father as well. My father was stung by a poisonous fish but it was not a lethal dose of venom, just enough to swell the hand. The sting was suffered whilst we were fishing in the lagoon, I was young and remembered the event well. Dad recovered ok though.

But it was the day after that when my incident happened. There is a hunting tradition in Tokelau where only the men go out into the lagoon and make a large circle. About 150m in diameter and about 50 men create a circle and each man has a stick. The men in the circle hit the water with the stick and slowly walk the circle slowly into the middle. They are herding fish into a centre where nets are to catch the fish. In Tokelau because the fish are so plentiful, catching them is not the trick, it’s collecting that is the hard part. As a young 13-year-old, I had gone along with older men and joined the circle. It was a treacherous event as the coral reef in low tide was full of obstacles. Walking in the hip-high sea level, navigating feet through sharp coral is not easy. Stonefish, lethal eels and poisonous coral all lay ahead not to mention the sharks that circled as well. It was at this time I felt the blood of the Island run through me. I slipped during the walk and fell into a pothole that had sharp coral attached. My blood inked the shallow water to which one of the local men, gave me a sudden look of concern. They helped me but told me I had to keep moving as if I kept still the blood would draw stonefish and sharks so we had to make haste. My leg burned and all I could think about was my nana. The Island is testing me, seeing if I have the strength like my nana to keep moving. I had to keep up with the men and achieve the feat of catching herds of fish. Eventually, I made it through the coral reef and contributed to the catch.

I healed well and the gathering of fish was a spectacle. I had never seen so much live healthy fresh fish before and the men who hauled the huge nets onto the harbour were strong and had huge shoulders. In my later years I would have dreams of these acts. Huge nets of fish sparkled and the fish were fluorescent in colour.

Nana was waiting for us when we returned and told me that was the island’s way of telling me that we must keep moving in order to survive. If we wanted to settle, we can always come back to the island.

Nana thinks about the island often now and now in her final days she lives with my father and mother in New Beith, Queensland she has lived life to the fullest. I and my sibling all draw strength from my nana, and although she has her secrets, we respect them.

Nana says one of her greatest and proudest achievements was being able to travel the world. From the smallest and remotest places on the planet, she traveled to the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, the USA, and other pacific islands.

As Polynesians who live here in the great land of Oz, navigation seems to be in our genes, to keep moving. Nana has always said do it for your future. Our future is in our own hands but history leaves clues. Nana and I have so many parallels and I wonder is it because I had knowledge of her travels it motivated my own. And furthermore, will it influence my children? I will tell my nanas story to the next generation as the island of Tokelau taught me, keep moving through the coral, you will get cut but keep your eye on the catch it will navigate you through the hard times, there will be others there to help and guide you at times but ultimately keep moving until you get the catch of fish. That’s what I will be telling the next generation.

Malo ni nana Malo koutou Tokelau e!

This is the life story of my Grandmother, Fay Coleman

By Ronan Hughes

Born on February 19, 1947, birth name Fay Janet Doolan, she was the first Ash Wednesday born in the hospital for that year. Her birth parents were Muriel Ileen Anderson, changed to Muriel Ileen Hammond after she was adopted and Patrick Eric Doolan, whom, thanks to later DNA tests, would be revealed to not actually be of the Doolan family. 

 When she was born, she was the youngest of three children, having an older brother and sister, and by the age of 6 she was the middle child, having a younger brother and sister as well. Her mother was a loving and kind woman, a doting mother, but her father was a different story, a somewhat violent man who treated both his wife and children with contempt and would often mistreat them. In 1953, they moved from their home in Brisbane to Hemmant, which was the same year that their father left their mother, who they wouldn’t hear about or from for 30 years, only learning about him in 1983 when they were called to be informed that he had passed away in palliative care at a nursing in barely a few hours from where they had spent most of their lives. 

Shortly after moving, her mother remarried, to a man who was even worse than their birth father. He would beat his wife and children, and on occasions fabricated scenarios in attempt to have the younger children put into homes and foster care. One such scenario that she remembered clearly was when he came home drunk and attempted to beat their mother. Her, along with her older siblings, attempted to stop him by force, and in retaliation he called the police, claiming that they had attacked him and that Fay, young enough to be put into care, had tried to attack him with a pair of scissors. During this time, her mother had a further five children with her stepfather, resulting in a total of nine siblings, most of those younger. Thanks to the long hours both parents worked, and the longer hours her stepfather would spend away from home for various reasons, much of the daily child-minding fell to the five older Doolan siblings including her, each taking care of one of the younger siblings. 

During this time, she was also attending school along with her siblings, and would later come to find out that her family had Aboriginal heritage. Her mother, Muriel, was born on country in in an Aboriginal campsite in Charleville in 1918, but when her mother and grandmother moved to Brisbane she and her sister were put into a home, where they were brought up to be domestic servants, where it was believed they would receive a better life than what their mother could offer them. It was due to their and her treatment during this time that she refused to reveal their heritage to Fay and her siblings, believing it would keep them from being abused and bullied at school, not to mention that she was afraid aboriginal heritage would make her children a target of protective services and more likely to be rehomed if anything happened, as this was something that, at the time, happened all too often and there are countless cases of it. In spite of all this, she persevered and raised all 10 of her children virtually alone with almost no help from the government or her spouse, and aimed to give them all the best lives possible. 

In school, Fay reached grade eight before deciding to quit, instead starting to work to help support her growing family. She originally wanted to become a schoolteacher, as she enjoyed schooling and learning but this was to be unrealized. Her first job was with Dixie Chickens at age 14, where she dealt with sexing and killing young chickens. Amazingly, her work ethic, skill and quick learning saw that she quickly rose in the ranks of the business as well as standing out in the eyes of her employers, well enough that by age 16 she was asked if she wanted to go over to New Zealand to work in one of their large hatcheries. However, she felt obligated to stay close to her family and more importantly her own mother, so she declined, to stay close to them and to ensure she’d be able to help them out in the way that they needed. She continued in that profession until the age of 17 and a half, when she moved on to KR Darling Downs. 

Here, she met her future husband, Gary Coleman, from whom she’d take the surname Coleman. While they became quick friends, however played the gentleman and refrained from going out or dating until Fay was 19 years old, but from there they feel quickly in love and were summarily married two years later in 1968. A year later she had her first child, a daughter, Lisa, and had two more children by the 1973. By the birth of their fourth child, they’d managed to purchase a house in Hemmant, which had originally been planned to be purchased for Fay’s older sister. But after examining the property, her sister decided it wasn’t up to her standards. Fay however jumped at the chance to own a home for her family and purchased it herself for the princely sum of $8,000, with a loan rate of 17 percent, with a total weekly wage of merely $60. 

With so many children to look after, she’d often spend most of her time as a stay-at-home mother, and often found herself having to take care of multiple snakes. Lisa would often throughout tomato seeds to start growing plants, and this would often result in the snakes moving in thanks to the new foliage. Most of these would often end up being shot trying to get in through the front door. 

A few years later in 1984, she began working in the RSL for a few months until the catering business that employed her shut down, but for those few short months it would often result in Lisa having to look after the other siblings due to both Fay and her husband working on Saturday’s. Eight months later, she found part-time employment at the local Snackbar, where she worked part-time for a further 10 years, but eventually sold the snackbar, which resulted in Fay leaving due to new management. From there, she moved to the Hemmant Hotel, where she worked for 5 years in the kitchens until an accident at work, which resulted in her almost snapping one of her legs. Thankfully, the hotel was kind enough to offer her a position looking after and watering the plants around the hotel, until her retirement at the age of 50. Five years later, her husband passed away, and moved once more in 2002, now to a home in Hemmant, to be closer to her family and grandchildren. By 2009 she had moved once more to Macleay Island, which was the first time in her life that she’d lived in a newly built home instead of purchasing one that had already been on the market. However, she only lived on the island for a mere three years until a want to be closer to her family pushed her to move back onto the mainland, living with Lisa for several months while her new home was built, and in March 2013 she moved into her current home in a lifestyle village in Brisbane. 

During that time, her family continued to grow, and by the time she finally moved back to the mainland for the last time, her family had grown to 19 biological grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, who often visit and spend time with her, thanks to living relatively close to her once more, one of the real reasons she decided to move back to Brisbane, and one of the best decisions she had ever decided to make, but she still hopes to travel and see more of the country one day, to make up for time she lost. 

My Grandad Ron

By Erin Norton

This is my Grandad Ron receiving a medal of honour from the Queen Mother in 1975. According to my Nan, she smiled at him and remarked “A Gordon for me”. Ron stood up so straight that a button of his uniform came flying off!

This is how I would like to remember him: a proud, humble, and respectful soldier with an infectious sense of humour- a trait that he has passed on to my Dad. 

Unfortunately, he passed away in 2013 and as my grandparents lived in Spain, I have few memories of Ron. I remember he had wrinkly tattoos on his chest and a silver tooth but until now, I did not know the extent of his military career. Looking at the old pictures and reading the reports from his fellow soldiers and students, I can see that Ron was loved dearly by everyone, especially my Nan Sandra. It has been an honour to write this article and reconnect with an important figure in my family’s diverse and complicated history.

So, let us start at the beginning (with the help of some official documents).  

Roy “Ron” Alexander Norton was born on the 12th of May 1937. He started boxing when was 8 years old and left school at 15 to join the Merchant Navy. He stayed with the Navy for a couple of years but then changed tack and enlisted in the now legendary Gordon Highlanders. 

The Gordon Highlanders were one of the finest regiments in the British Army, spanning over 200 years until their amalgamation in 1994. Consisting of fishermen, farmers, university students and labourers, the Highlanders were ordinary people with a strong sense of duty and drive to serve their country.

Ron enlisted in 1963 and completed his basic training in Fort George, a tiny town near Inverness in Scotland. That same year, Ron and his fellow Highlanders embarked on numerous tours of duty in Kenya, Mombasa, and Swaziland and then moved on to Borneo and Cyprus.

During his time with the Highlanders, was revered by his colleagues who referred to him as “Mush”. He was described as a short man but one who walked tall and was brimming with the self confidence of an “old soldier” and loved canoeing and boxing. His stern and sometimes ominous exterior concealed a man who would light up a room with his endless supply of jokes, making the dullest moments entertaining.

In 1972, Ron married the love of his life, Sandra in Grays, Essex, England. Shortly after the wedding, the newly weds with my Dad in tow moved to Northern Ireland where Ron completed a tour of duty, assisting the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUI) during “The Troubles”, a series of riots and terrorist attacks by the Irish Republican Army. During the late 70’s and 80’s, the trio moved around a lot and journeyed to many far off and exotic places like Singapore, Penang, and New Zealand.

But after years of service to the Highlanders and the British Army, Ron retired from military life in the summer of 1981 taking up a job in Industrial Security Management. After my Dad was all grown up, Ron and Sandra moved from England to the idyllic seaside town of Mazarron, Murcia, Spain, which provided a perfect place for retirement.

Throughout his later years of life, he became even more of an inspiration by joining the local Karate community, teaching a number of students at the Dominoes Martial Arts Self Defence Club as “Sensei Rocket”.

My Grandad Ron was a hero, a true gentleman, a husband, and a father. He touched the hearts of many throughout his life and I am honoured to say that I am related to him. Love you forever.

The origin of waste management in Australia


In the year of 1932, the Richards family saw a service that needed to be filled.

The waste industry in Australia was a seemingly small service that not many people wanted to interact with since it mostly had to be dealt with by hand.

1962 Garbage Cupboard Wagon.
Photo: Courtesy of Idwall Richards.

Joseph Joe Richards Snr successfully gained a contract to work in the Murwillumbah Municipality and J.J Richards & Sons was born.

George Winterbon, the Mayor of Murwillumbah at the time, became the guarantor that allowed the Richards family to obtain this three-year contract and have the money to begin working.

In 1939, after some initial gruelling years, they were able to expand to the whole of Tweed Shire.

Joe and Dorothy Richards had six children, all of whom assisted them in their business.

Idwall Richards, born May 31st, 1930, often helped his father with the designing and building of workshops for their business.

He built his first shed when he was just 10 years old, alongside his father.

Idwall was so proficient in this area that his father suggested he get a job as an architect.

Not really knowing what else to do, Idwall moved in with his Aunt in Sydney in 1947 to hopefully start his career in the industry.

After a year of labour, Idwall realised it wasn’t meant to be and moved closer to home in Brisbane in a similar job but caught the train to Murwillumbah each weekend to help his family at J.J Richards & Sons.

“In that time, the only way to get to Murwillumbah was by train to Southport and then everyone got on a bus that ended in Murwillumbah, I did that for many years,” Idwall said.

By the mid 1950’s, Idwall had quit his job in Brisbane and extended family like cousins and in-laws joined the business.

As family members joined, the business gained another contract in the Shire of Uralla and Walcha.

Idwall’s father, Joe, passed away in the year of 1959. This is when his children took over and expansion to Toowoomba, Queensland occurred.

This was a major move, allowing more growth in Queensland, they continue to hold the contract in Toowoomba to this day.

It was in 1960 that Idwall and his partner, Jill moved into his late father’s home.

The passing of his father also motivated the family to continue his work and expand the business even further.

Joseph Jnr took to rural Australia and created J.R Richards. While Idwall and Tom continued the hard yards in Chinderah.

Since then, Idwall has seen drastic changes to the waste industry including the implementation of side loading-trucks in 1968, instead of rear-loaders. A version of which is still in use today.

1990’s side-loading garbage truck.
Photo: Courtesy of Idwall Richards.

In fact, with inspiration from a Sydney-made garbage compactor, It was Idwall who designed the side-loaders at that time.

Chinderah remained the centre of these milestones until Tom created his own facility in Brisbane in 1990, leaving Idwall to tender the Tweed Shire area for himself.

Tom and sister Joyce bought out Idwall’s share of J.J Richards & Sons and that’s when it changed to Solo Resource Recovery in the areas of and surrounding the Tweed Shire.

Idwall’s children, Gillian, Rhys and Robert, have since joined the business as well. Bringing their children with them as well.

Since then, rapid expansion has occurred. Since the family has proven to be innovative and reliable, the Richards name can now be seen all over Australia and even in New Zealand or the United States.

“It’s great to see what was just a little company in 1932, become what it is today.”

As a man in his 90’s, Idwall can no longer practice golf each week like he did since the 60’s. Instead, he plays tennis twice a week with friends, on his home court.

Idwall Charles Richards in 2003. Photo: Courtesy of Idwall Richards.

Other than this, he has no intention of retiring any time soon, he continues to work hard week to week and says he plans to go straight upstairs from there

The Interesting Life of Hilda Fletcher – Part 3

By Talitha Organ Fletcher

Part 3 – The War Effort

Injuries were no excuse to not do your part during the war. Everyone had a job to do to ensure the country still functioned successfully and Hilda Fletcher (known as Hilda Morris at the time) was no exception. Read more »

The Interesting Life of Hilda Fletcher – Part 2

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Part 2 – The Bombing

“I remember waking myself up screaming.”

Having a well paying job at the Vickers Armstrong Aircraft factory before the war even started, Hilda had her daily routine down pat. Read more »

The Interesting Life of Hilda Fletcher

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Part 1 – Growing Up

January 29 1921, Edwin and Emelia Phillips welcomed another baby girl in their family but at the time, no one had any idea of the extraordinary life that she would go on to lead. She would travel the world, join the army, emigrate halfway across the globe and survive a direct bombing by German forces in the second world war. At 97, Hilda May Fletcher, has seen and experienced enough love, loss and adventure for two lifetimes but finds herself with a wonderful legacy and one incredible life story. Read more »

A Nurse’s Tale

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Balmain, Sydney. 1975. A young, dedicated woman by the name of Katrina Singh, pins on her nurses’ cap and walks down the corridors of Balmain Hospital to begin her shift. Read more »

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Crystal clear beaches, white sand between toes and a relaxed, homely feeling is what Tugun and Currumbin is all about. Many people say they are hit with a wave of nostalgia and flooding memories when going back to a place they love and for a long time I didn’t believe that feeling was possible… Read more »

John “Jack” McMullen

By Caitlin Matticoli Edited by Jake Watson

John ‘Jack’ McMullen was a man of strength and toughness. He joined the Royal Australian Navy in his early 20s as an engineer. As my great-grandmother Margret used to say, “Jack was straight forward. What you saw was what you got”. Read more »