Joan Gaffey (1921-2001)
(parents of Joan Gaffey):
Thomas Patrick GAFFEY (b Mar 6 1883, Bundarra, NSW)
Stella Eveline WILLIAMS
(b Apr 25 1889, Paddington, Sydney)
Nov 9 1921 at Bondi, Sydney
Bondi, Sydney, then New England area (1927/28), later
various Sydney suburbs and the Blue Mountains before moving to
Queensland - Ipswich (1946), Townsville, Cairns (46/47) and Toowoomba
Shop/office assistant (1936-43)
February 28, 2001 in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Toowoomba, Queensland (age 79)
(June 12 1943, St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney)
Joan Gaffey had an early setback in life - when she was only six, her mother Stella died; this was a loss Joan felt bitterly for the rest of her life.
She was born at Waverley Private Hospital in Bondi in 1921, the eldest of three children. The family’s secure domestic existence, living in a duplex next door to Joan’s grandmother, was brought to an abrupt end in 1928 when her mother succumbed a kidney disease.
Joan’s father, Tom Gaffey, then a tram conductor, took his
three children (all aged six or under) from their home in Philip Street,
Bondi, to stay with some of his own relations in the New England area of New
South Wales. Their time in the
region included staying with an aunt and uncle who ran a hotel at Tingha, a
tiny, tin-mining town west of Armidale.
Life with the extended family didn’t work out and in
January 1930, Joan and her brother Reg were sent to St. Patrick's
orphanage in Armidale run by the Sisters of Mercy, where they stayed for
nearly a year.[i]
During that time, Joan remembers her aunt, Emily West, who lived in
Armidale, visiting the orphanage and distributing lollies to the
The orphanage at
Armidale where Joan and her brother Reg were sent in 1930. In 1998, the imposing building was converted to upmarket
In December 1930, their father took them out of the
orphanage and back to Sydney, where Joan and her sister Eve were boarded
at St. Joseph's convent at Hunters Hill.
When their father remarried in 1932, the children
returned to live with him and his new wife and the children from her
first marriage, at 5 Gladesville Road, Hunter’s Hill.
An adolescent Joan found living with her father and stepmother difficult. After leaving school at 15 somewhat against her wishes, Joan started work as a sales girl at Mark Foy’s large department store in the centre of Sydney, later moving to office work at Joe Gardiner’s, and as a shop assistant at Anthony Hordern’s.
(middle row at left) and Eve (same row, at right) are the
only two pupils in 3rd/4th class at St. Joseph’s
school, Hunter Hill in 1932, wearing ties.
Perhaps the fact they were boarders at the school at the time had
something to do with their uniform compliance.
Perhaps the fact they were boarders at the school at the time had something to do with their uniform compliance.
Joan [standing] with her Aunts Gertrude [left] and Florence Williams, 1938, Carrington Road, Randwick
To relieve the atmosphere at home, she went to live with
her aunt, Gertrude Williams, at Randwick.
Aunt Gertrude, her mother’s elder sister, also cared for her own mother,
and her mother's sister Margaret (Hyde).
Gertrude was a talented dressmaker, and Joan was often commissioned
to pick up lay-bys of fabric for her while in the City.
During the early years
of World War 11, when fear of a possible Japanese invasion was at its
height, Joan’s uncle Arthur (the ALP member of State Parliament for Ryde
and Georges River) decided Sydney was not the place for his mother and
bought a house in the Blue Mountains, at Leura, where Joan and Aunt
Gertrude also went for some months before returning to Sydney.
While at Leura, Joan worked in the office of a local timber
Joan was still living with her aunt, and working in the office of Joe Gardiner's shoe store in the Hayrmarket area when Peter Byrnes, then a 19-year-old student from Queensland at Sydney University, came to board there.
Joan(centre), at her debutante ball, Paddington Town Hall, 1941
(right): with Peter in Sydney, c1942
Two years later, Peter and Joan were married in St.
With the deprivations of war-time Sydney, Joan’s wedding gown was
made from curtain material – dress material was rationed, whereas
curtain material wasn’t.
Much to Joan’s regret, her gown couldn’t be made by her beloved aunt –
Gertrude had died earlier that same year, in 1943, of encephalitis.
(left) Joan and Peter’s wedding day, June 12, 1943,
St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney
with bridesmaid Alva
1 Norfolk Avenue, Beverley Hills, Sydney, where Joan and
Peter rented a spare back bedroom – the only accommodation they could
find in war-time Sydney
Soon after the birth of their second child in March 1945, the young family moved to Valley Heights in the Blue Mountains.
At Valley Heights, the cottage was primitive - no
electricity, with ‘an airconditioned bathroom’, as Joan described the
shack with holes in the galvanised iron walls.
Joan said she lived in fear of the snakes in the surrounding bush during
the summer, and when Peter suggested that she take the children to live
with his parents at Ipswich in Queensland, she agreed.
In 1946 Joan and the
two children, then aged three and two, moved north, with Peter making
what trips he could to see his family, while still working and studying
in Sydney. When he
qualified, Peter was sent to the Health Department’s laboratory at
Lismore, which enabled him to make more frequent trips over the border
to visit his family.
The family was
reunited when Peter was given relief work in north Queensland
(Townsville and Cairns), before the permanent move to Toowoomba in 1947.
Another seven children
followed in Toowoomba, resulting in a large family of five sons and four
daughters. At one stage,
four children were born within five years - a period Joan says was
“just a blur”. Nevertheless
she coped with the immense workload, with considerable support from
The family's annual holiday at Kirra, on Queensland's Gold Coast, was
a much-looked forward to time:
The family's annual holiday at Kirra, on Queensland's Gold Coast, was a much-looked forward to time:
(above) the family on the beach at Kirra in the early 1950s.
from left: Peter (jnr), Mary, Joan with Catherine in front, Gerard,
(above) the family on the beach at Kirra in the early 1950s. from left: Peter (jnr), Mary, Joan with Catherine in front, Gerard, Peter.
A portrait taken on Joan and Peter’s 25th
wedding anniversary in 1968 when they were both aged 46.
While housework and
caring for such a large family was the main focus of Joan’s life, for
many years she and Peter also found time to work for the Endeavour
Foundation, an organisation that was instrumental in helping care for
their youngest child Danny, born with Down’s Syndrome in 1965.
For Joan, this interest centred on weekly voluntary work at the
Foundation’s Op Shop in Toowoomba.
When Peter retired in
1982, they built a new house (still in Toowoomba), and lived there with
Their life was hit by tragedy soon after, when Danny, aged just 19,
died in 1984 after a very short struggle against cancer.
Joan and Peter,
On holidays at Maroochydore, 1988.
70th birthday lunch on the waterfront in Newcastle, 1991
October 1999 –
Joan and Peter at the wedding of their granddaughter Laura Magill to
Brenden Millard at St. Andrews, Campbelltown.
This occasion was the last of Joan’s long interstate visits to see
her daughters and their families in the southern states.
Joan’s children, particularly her daughters, moved far
Since one of her main interests was keeping up to date with the
activities of her more than 20 grandchildren, this provided the
opportunity and incentive for many trips to Sydney, Adelaide, Newcastle
Joan’s life in later years became restricted by health problems, with the onset of severe arthritis, resulting in several operations to replace failing hip and knee joints. The end result of these operations was not entirely successful, and by the age of 75, she needed a walking frame to move around her home. (Nevertheless, she still liked to go shopping). In November 2000, Joan, then suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, fought off a serious bout of pneumonia, an episode that saw her admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital. After only a brief respite from the onset of this illness, her health once again failed, and Joan died, surrounded by all her family, on February 28, 2001.
From the eulogy delivered in St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Toowoomba, by Joan’s eldest son, Peter, at her funeral on March 3, 2001
It’s difficult to sum up in a few words today what my mother has meant
to me, my brothers and sisters, and most particularly, my father, whose
companion she was for nearly 60 years.
She was the
heart and soul of our very large family.
To each of her nine children, she related in a very special and
caring way. I know you’ll
say this is a common characteristic of mothers, but it was an extra
achievement for Mum as she had no role model to learn from, unlike the
example she has set her own children.
Mum, who was the
eldest of three children, lost her own mother when she was only six
years old, a loss she felt deeply all her life. Childhood and adolescence were a struggle for her after
that, as she grew up in the 1920s and into the Depression years.
Her childhood included a year in an orphanage in Armidale when she
was only seven, before she went to school back in Sydney as a boarder.
Sydney was always her home-town, and although she came to appreciate
Toowoomba and its people who became her friends, it was always against
Sydney she measured all other cities.
Sydney was special: for one thing, it was where she met my father, when
she was just 19 years old.
Photographs from that time show that Mum was indeed a beautiful young
woman – in fact, Dad tells me he couldn’t believe his luck when she went
out with him. Their courtship resulted in marriage, at the height of
World War Two, in Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, nearly 58 years ago.
I was the first child of that marriage, followed very soon by a
Sydney during war-time was almost impossible to get, and so Mum and Dad
took us two youngsters up to a shack in the Blue Mountains where they
didn’t have even the most basic amenities including electricity.
Dad commuted from there every day to Sydney University where he was
studying and working for the Department of Health, leaving Mum to cope
with two toddlers in the primitive living conditions at Valley Heights.
Mum always said, “at least the bathroom there was air-conditioned”,
her gentle way of referring to the holes in its galvanised iron walls.
Dad’s home state
of Queensland appeared to offer better prospects, so after much
soul-searching, they made the move north, eventually settling in
Toowoomba in the late 1940s.
I doubt if Mum ever adjusted to the Toowoomba winters – I remember in
bitterly cold seasons, the skin across her knuckles cracking and
splitting, from the constant immersion in water, as she did the washing
for her ever-increasing number of children.
And the red soil of Toowoomba certainly added to her wash-day woes…
Throughout the years, the number of children increased to nine – five
boys and four girls. We youngsters marvelled at the planning it took to
alternate boy-girl-boy-girl right down through the clan. I think at one stage, Mum and Dad had five children in just
over six years. Years
later, Mum was asked how she coped during that time, and her realistic
answer was “I don’t know – it was all a bit of a blur”.
But cope she certainly did, with much practical help from Dad.
The family was all-important to Mum and Dad – they worked to provide the
best education they could for all their children, and to give us a
stable, happy home life.
That included regular holidays at the then South Coast – still a
favourite area for Mum and Dad’s holidays into recent years, and such
ordinary, happy times as Sunday afternoon drives, after the family
bought our first car, an FJ Holden, in the 1950s.
I believe Mum had one go at learning to drive the car, but she soon
decided that wasn’t for her.
Instead, she led us in singalongs while Dad did the driving, and that
was where we learnt such classic Australian ballads as “Botany Bay”.
such ballads were appropriate – we learned in later years that Mum’s
family had a number of enforced migrants sent out here from Mother
England back in the 1790s and early 1800s – a discovery she greeted with
some dismay, saying “well, I don’t think I’ll tell anybody about them”.
For her generation, such ancestry was not a badge of honour, as it
perhaps is today.
What she did enjoy were simple pleasures – and some of these will be
symbolised in the offerings we will bring up in the Offertory
procession….a game of Scrabble in which no quarter was asked or given,
and that more often than not, she won, crossword puzzles with Dad of an
afternoon, reading, crochet work and music.
In her younger days, her music came out most clearly in a lovely
singing voice that unfortunately, I don’t think any of us have
However, in her
gentle, quiet way, she was proud of all her children, bringing out the
best in each of us, and seeing in each all our special qualities,
special at least in her eyes.
One big place in her heart was reserved for her youngest child, Danny,
who had all the wonderful qualities of children with Down Syndrome. As Danny grew up, Mum became very involved in the work of
that superb organisation, the Endeavour Foundation, which did so much to
help Danny, and Mum and Dad, with all Danny’s day-to-day needs.
Despite her own failing health with a particularly crippling form
of arthritis, she worked as a volunteer in the Foundation’s charity shop
for more years than I can remember, continuing long after 19 year old
Danny was taken from us by cancer nearly 17 years ago.
For those past
17 years, we have had Mum with us – now it is Danny’s turn to look after
her, after all her years of pain and suffering, and to welcome her to
his side – and Mum, while you’re watching from up there with Danny, we
promise you we’ll look after Dad…
Joan and Reg were recorded at the orphanage under the name of ‘GAFFNEY’.