My grandfather Griffith Llewellyn Williams was born on this day one hundred years ago in North Sydney. At that time the two sides of the harbour were only connected by water transport: the Sydney Harbour Bridge started construction in 1923 when he was ten, and opened in 1932.
His parents, the Melburnian Beatrice and Welsh-born Griffith were both new to Sydney. She had returned to Australia in late 1911 after five years of exhibition swimming and diving in the UK where she had met her husband-to-be, and he had arrived independently (it would seem) by March 1912, and they were married in Redfern in April.
It is not clear how why they decided on Sydney when Beatrice had strong family roots in Melbourne, but there is evidence that they did spend some time living there when my grandfather was a child. I have a letter from Griffith Sr written on the Sydney-Melbourne train in May 1913, addressed to “my darling wife & baby & Mam” - the latter I presume to be Beatrice’s mother, the widowed Sophia Kerr who had chaperoned her daughter to England and back, and was yet to embark on her final three marriages.
At some point the family ended up in the Bondi Beach area of Sydney and his father became a distributor for the Edison Phonograph Company. Now I know very little about the location or details of this (I eagerly await gentle suggestions from my uncles), but I read from a list of Edison’s companies:
This coincides quite neatly with Griffith Sr’s arrival in Australia and the period up to his early death (cancer?) in 1937. He was also an alderman on Waverley Council from 1925-1931, and the golf-course Williams Park at North Bondi is named for him.
My grandfather, Griffith Jr or “Llyn” as he was known was a very good student and apparently topped NSW in the state School Leaving Certificate. One of his school chums (Sir) Asher Joel became a well known parliamentarian. Llyn went on to Sydney University to study medicine but the harsh economic climate of the Depression saw that direction closed off to him and he spent some time digging ditches. He confessed to me that he could never wrap his head around biochemistry anyway.
He married my grandmother in 1936 (described in her centenary post) and son number one arrived in 1937, although I’m not sure if Griffith Sr ever got to see his first grandchild. Both of my grandparents were an only child, but seemed to have had no problem raising a large family through difficult war years and beyond.
Llyn worked for the NSW Fisheries Department as an inspector, and took his young and quickly growing family up and down the coast over the years – Brooklyn, Macksville, (Nambucca Heads?, ??) – enabling all the children to be well exposed to the coastal joys of swimming and sailing.
When my father left school, Llyn took him to get a job at the bank "because he would get a coal allowance”. In later years when my father was working his way through the ranks of various small inland branches of the CBC bank, he introduced his father to golf. Apparently Llyn scored a hole in one on his first game, and while this enabled him to claim that the game couldn’t be that difficult, he did become part of the large golfing clique within the family. I didn’t share so much enthusiasm for the game, yet I remember a day on Mona Vale golf course when the club pro came out to fix us up for equipment. When he paged “Mr Williams” at least seven of us responded.
Llyn’s last posting before he retired was as inspector for the Sydney Fish Market. My father said that the family got to eat so much confiscated fish during his childhood that he could no longer face seafood – and so I don’t think I ever had anything more exotic than fish fingers for most of mine.
I don’t remember ever spending much time alone with him away from the rest of the family. From early years I gave him the name “Pipe” although I don’t remember him smoking one – perhaps I just couldn’t get “Pop” right. We did have one night together as the family representatives at the launch of an exhibition at the State Library commemorating his mother’s swimming career.
He passed quickly in 1992, ten weeks’ short of his 80th birthday, in the Dee Why unit where I’d visited them so many times. Although he could be rather gruff, I cannot remember a stern word directed to me. With so many children and grandchildren he had opted for the safe and very charming memory strategy of calling everyone “dear”. Supposedly he was once pulled over in his car by a policeman, wound down the window and asked “what have I done dear?”
As always there are so many questions and conversations that could have been put and had. I’m under the impression that he knew very little about his father’s Welsh background, although Beatrice used to talk it up by saying that he was descended from Llewellyn, the last true prince of Wales. ( However, before chasing that lineage back six hundred years, we run into a problem of an unknown paternity for her father-in-law. Oops. )