20a: Heimat/Shellharbour

Posted originally on February 5, 2016 by Neil

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially.

Several decades here, but let’s start with this photo from 1956.


That’s Shellharbour’s ocean pool, image from Shellharbour History in Photos. It’s a bit unclear but I could almost believe the man right foreground is my father, especially if what is immediately behind him is a white dog (is it?) in which case the kid running towards him may well be me! We were holidaying in Shellharbour in the summer of 1956.

That pool was renovated and renamed Beverley Whitfield Pool in 1994. See Beverley Whitfield on the Shellharbour Local History blog.

12661968_1740439649512704_2123985810144368757_nL to R: Edgar (Dunc) Gray, Mayor Cec Glenholmes, Beverley Whitfield, Andy Gerke and Terry Gathercole

Andy Gerke was Beverley’s uncle, and my cousin Una’s husband. Sadly Beverley died two years later at the age of 42. I was at the funeral, but circumstances had led to my family not seeing much of the Shellharbour Whitfields after 1975.

For my father Shellharbour remained Heimat.

Heimat is a German concept. People are bound to their heimat by their birth and their childhood, their language, their earliest experiences or acquired affinity. For instance, Swiss citizens have their Heimatort (the municipality where the person or their ancestors became citizens) on their identification. Heimat as a trinity of descendance, community, and tradition—or even the examination of it— highly affects a person’s identity.

Though in the war years he broke away yet he always was rooted in that place and time 1911-1938. Indeed he returned in 1970 until illness/distress forced his return to Sydney in 1975. Strangely I too have returned in a way, back here in Wollongong almost six years now after an absence of 30 years, But I have only been back to Shellharbour once, and that just before I actually returned to the Illawarra. See Shellharbour – a double post (2010) and more posts here, here and here.

You see, there is much of Heimat in Shellharbour for me too, even if my parents left it before I was born. We did constantly visit in my childhood, and many a story have I heard about the place. But the place of my childhood is not there any more. Well, it is, but its surrounds buried under suburbia, some of it good and some of it rather awful. Progress I suppose.

Here is my childhood’s Shellharbour:


20 – Shellharbour Whitfields 1905

Posted originally on February 4, 2015 by Neil

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially.


Shellharbour in 1970 still resembled the place my grandparents knew in the early 1900s. Today it is almost unrecognisable.

Last we saw of Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield, my grandfather, he was prospering in his new environment in Shellharbour and the Illawarra – and working like mad! I think he was a very driven man. Recent events back in Picton/Thirlmere which saw his father’s very significant timber business collapse may have been behind that.

The Shellharbour he knew in the decade before World War 1 was small. Even fifty years later – well within my memory – the approach from Tongarra Road Albion Park showed what we now call “the village” glimpsed on the sea edge surrounded by paddocks, patches of bush, and wetlands.


Tom was active in council, church and friendly societies.


June 1907


July 1905

Friendly societies or lodges like the Independent Order of Odd Fellows were part of the fabric of society back then.

The Independent Order of Oddfellows (IOOF) was established in NSW in 1836 and Melbourne in 1846. It was originally a mutual benefit society that provided aid to members in times of sickness and unemployment; these benefits were obtained through joining fees and ongoing subscriptions. Upon joining, prospective members had to sign a form stating that they and their wife were of sound health, and pass means, religious and moral tests. Local lodge members then voted on the suitability of the prospective member by placing a black or white ball in the ballot box; if more than three black balls were returned the prospective member was rejected, hence the term blackballing. If a prospective member was blackballed one more vote to assess his suitability was allowed, and those who voted against him the first time were required to state their reasons for doing so.

Competition between friendly societies for members was fierce and there was an intense rivalry between the IOOF and the MUIOOF (Manchester Unity) in Victoria. Both have survived to this day, although the the IOOF has transitioned into a specialist funds management business. Like many other friendly societies, the IOOF had initiation ceremonies, rituals for meetings, and regalia and jewels, which became increasingly elaborate as a member moved through the levels (degrees) of membership or attained offices. The IOOF was one of the few friendly societies that admitted female members – through the Rebekah degree….


St Paul’s Church of England with Shellharbour Jetty in the foreground 1900-1910 – image from Milton East. Search Shellharbour Library collection under the key word “jetty”.

You will recall that among the many jobs T D Whitfield worked on was the rebuilding of Shellharbour Jetty in 1909. Many a time I walked that jetty in the 40s through the 60s, but I don’t recall my grandfather’s connection being mentioned. The Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton) mentions him in 1909, even if they get his name wrong.


Amid all this activity came darker signs, and some of the tragedy that seemed to haunt this family. More was to come.


That’s June 1906. Sadly Aubrey did not survive. Another son is mentioned in another lighter story:


That is September 1909. Colin was to die in 1915, not through war but in a shooting accident. See More Whitfield family history.