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On 10 January 2012 I flew from Hobart to Sydney to spend a few days with my second cousin Ted Hyland. The first time I had met Ted was in Sydney in July 1947 when I was five years old and he 21. He was my mother’s first cousin. Like her, Ted had curly hair and I could see a family resemblance. He had been recently demobilised from the Australian Airforce and had time on his hands to escort my mother, brother and me to the Sydney Zoo and buy us lunch. In the afternoon we took a ferry ride to Manly where we children built sand castles and were shouted donkey rides. On our return trip Ted pointed out the gloomy Pinchgut Island where prisoners dwelled. I recall shuddering at the sight of it. Then he drew our attention to the magnificent Sydney Harbour Bridge -— such a marvellous manmade construction — that dominated the landscape. On that day our mother took snaps of us while we were in Ted’s company. We had a lovely time with him before we were whisked off to live in Melbourne for six months and then travel to Brisbane to take up permanent residence.
The following year our parents separated and they were divorced by 1952. Post separation, our mother having cut off all ties with her Sydney family and dad’s family; my brother and I missed family contact. During the traumatic years that followed I derived comfort from looking at the photos that were taken in Sydney. They reminded me of happy times. Moreover, the inclusion of pictures of the friendly young man who joked and laughed with us kept his memory alive.
In 2006 I began researching my family history because I knew so little about my mother’s side of the family. As a mature adult I examined the photo albums more closely for clues about my forebears. The last page of a battered album cover revealed a clue un a faded newspaper clipping that read:
Hyland – Hughes. The engagement of Kathleen Margaret, second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. P.L. Hughes, of Oatley to Edwin Arthur, second son of Mrs. M. Hyland and the late Mr. E. Hyland of Hurstville. The Sydney Morning Herald (22 September 1949)
The clipping was undated and no source given. (My thanks go to the on-line digitalised website website Trove for verification and date of announcement). My mother must have had some fond memories of the man because she had glued that notice in our album. My synapses twigged into action. Could he be the ‘Ted’ from Sydney in our old albums? The name ‘Ted’ could have been a diminutive of ‘Edwin’. It was no use asking my then-living mother about him because she had well and truly locked away her memories of the past and had thrown away the key. I had to find that connection through further family research.
So began a long, arduous project to learn more about my mother’s side of the family. For starters my mother, Violet May Lee could not recall her mother’s maiden name. I had sighted my mother’s abridged birth certificate; unfortunately that bit of paper did not provide further enlightenment. All I knew about my maternal grandmother were her first names – Violet Tasma. Eventually I found details of her through searching the online New South Wales website, Births Deaths and Marriages. After ordering numerous certificates I discovered that my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Cleary and she had two sisters, Aphra and Myee plus two brothers, Jim and Arthur. Myee married Edwin ‘Ted’ Hyland in 1914. They had a second son named Edwin who was born in 1926. He was nicknamed ‘Ted’. I was so thrilled to find the connection.
Immediately I searched the on-line white pages for a Hyland living in Sydney. Bingo! A man named Edwin Hyland lived in the suburb of Arncliffe. The year was 2007. Straightaway I wrote him a letter with contact details and included photocopies of the Sydney photos. Two days later he phoned me, absolutely thrilled to learn that he had a second cousin living in Tasmania. My husband and I stayed a week with him. We learned that his relationship with the Kathleen mentioned in the newspaper clipping proved disastrous after their marriage in 1950. His second marriage, however, was very happy. Sadly his second wife died a few years prior to our meeting. Ted was overjoyed to meet us. We talked a lot about the family connection. Each day Ted drove us to the Sydney suburbs where the Cleary and Lee families had lived. He gave me precious photos of my mother wearing her Holy Communion outfit and other photos of her in her teens. He also presented me a photo of my Hobart-born maternal great-grandfather, William James Cleary and others including his Hobart-born wife, Rose Cleary nee Lynch. During the time we spent together we got along so well I was saddened to leave for home.
In October 2011 Ted phoned to tell me the bad news that he was having heart problems and wished to see me once more. On this last visit in January I travelled alone. Ted, now 85 years old, appeared frail and had lost weight. His eyesight had deteriorated so badly he was prohibited from driving as he suffered from Macula Degeneration and was so elated to see me again. In the evenings we perused the 100 year-old albums he had recently received following the death of a relative. These photograph albums were bequeathed to him after the death last year of his one remaining first cousin. I had also contacted this cousin while she was alive but she was averse to meeting with me but said she would send me photos of the family. Noticing the handwriting on the backs of some photos she probably was in the middle of sorting them when she died suddenly. While we were looking at the photos he told me stories about the family and presented me with 118 photographs of the Cleary, Lee and Hyland families and some of me and my brother when we were young.. I considered the gift one of immeasurable worth, which I shall protect and keep for future generations.
During the day DespiteTed's failing eyesight he guided me through the older parts of Sydney that he knew so well. Together, we found our way through Sydney’s lesser-known historic spots and enjoyed another trip to Manly. We also had time to explore the well-known Paddy’s Market. On my last day, he accompanied me to Bankstown so I could visit the headquarters of CLAN (Care Leavers Australia Network.) I wished to visit there because I had donated a leather rosary case I had been given by a kind priest in 1950 while I was incarcerated in Nazareth House, Wynnum Queensland and wanted to see where the rosary case was placed.
While I was perusing the memorabilia in the museum one of the staff was asking Ted about our connection with each other and his life. For three hours they talked. I cried when I overheard his unhappy story. Ted cried too.The day before Ted’s fifth birthday — his father a World War One Veteran aged 42 — died suddenly from a cerebral haemorrhage. Ted’s grieving mother couldn’t cope with being alone and became an alcoholic. When she was on a drinking binge Ted was neglected, abused and placed in institutions until she recovered. At school he was humiliated each year when the principal would ask those children who had no books, to stand up in the front of the class. Names were taken and the children were instructed to see the Headmaster after school. Although Ted did well and was awarded a bursary he could not take it up due to the dire situation of family finances. He left school at fourteen and took on part-time jobs until he was called up for war service in 1944.
Within six months of his marriage in 1950 his wife became pregnant with a daughter and eighteen months later a son was born. Immediately after the son’s birth Ted’s wife deserted him to live at her parent’s house. Ted rarely saw his children and when he learned that his son had been placed in The Boys Town Institution he instigated divorce proceedings so he would have access. His wife was awarded custody of the children and Ted was granted limited access. Ted's heart broke at the news. His daughter was educated at an esteemed Catholic convent while his son remained at Boys Town and suffered horribly at the hands of sadistic staff. Even though Ted paid maintenance to his wife he had no influence on their children’s education. Ted thought it so unfair that his son continued to reside at an institution while his daughter received a good education and had all the home comforts.
To date, Ted’s son has recently sought out his father to ask him what had happened. They have been partly reconciled. However, his daughter — aproximately aged 60— has been contacted about her father’s whereabouts, but she will have nothing to do with him. I can’t believe that such a lovely old man has been denied access to his children and grandchildren all these years. The CLAN officer would like Ted to tell his side of the story before it is too late. One suggestion was to post copies to each adult child and copies lodged with his lawyer to be distributed on his death. I thought that was excellent advice. However, due to Ted's present eye condition it would be an impossible task for him. The ball is in his court to find someone who has the time and patience to hear it and write it down for him. By doing so, Ted's children would learn what a brave and caring father theve have/ had and learn his side of the family tragedy.