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On this day… 27 April

April 27, 2011

Frank Greer Kirwan about 1968/9

On this day, 27 April 1908, my grandfather, Frank Greer Kirwan was born in Sandstone, Western Australia.  Sandstone is literally ‘in the middle of nowhere’.  But it is also in the middle of the Western Australian goldfields and was a thriving goldrush town at the time my grandfather was born there.

For a period of six years from 1907 Sandstone was a small city of some 6,000 to 8,000 people. With four hotels, four butchers, many cafes, stores and business houses, as well as a staffed police station and two banks, things were booming.  In July 1910, the railway came to the town, however by 1919 only 200 people remained and many buildings were pulled down and moved.

It must have been an exciting place to be, but it would have been a ‘rough and ready’ place for a young woman to give birth to her first baby.

Frank Greer Kirwan’s mother, Marion Hanna died on 20 December 1910, when Frank was two years and eight months old.  His brother, Richard (who was born in Perth in August 1909) was 16 months old.

Frank and Richard were separated.  Richard went to live with his maternal grandmother in Perth.  Frank lived with two families – Emma (Kirwan) Willmott, his father’s sister and her husband William, who were married in Perth in 1907,  and a Wade couple – Bill Wade and his wife.  Emma Willmott and her husband didn’t have any

Kirwan Eatinghouse at Wilpena. Johanna is in the foreground.

children of their own.  Emma was six years older than Frank’s father, Nicholas.  Emma and her sister, Jane had looked after their younger siblings (all brothers) for a number of years as they were growing up.  Firstly because their mother became ill and moved to be closer to her own family (and possibly medical care).  Nicholas’ father, Richard Kirwan and his wife, Johanna (Bacon) had taken over the running of the Wilpena Eatinghouse while Richard’s father, John ran a store in Edeowie.  When John shot himself in 1873,

Richard had taken over the management of that business too for a time.  Johanna’s brother, Henry Bacon would help the girls to look after the family, because as the family stories go, Richard was often away or drinking, and was not around enough to take care of his children in his wife’s absence.

Johanna died in 1887, a week before her 39th birthday.

I have been told that my grandfather spoke about the Willmotts being very cruel to him.  He was very unhappy when he lived with them.

The Wade family who took him in and took care of him would have been descendants of William Wade and Eliza Kirwan.  William Wade was the son of an Irish school teacher, who came to Western Australia aboard ‘Ganges’ when he was 18 years old, in 1841.  He travelled to Western Australia with his brother, Thomas who was 20 years old.  Eliza came to Western Australia with her family.  She was the eldest of five children who came with John Kirwan and his wife Jane (Olose/Close) aboard ‘Scindian’, the first convict ship to arrive in Western Australia, on 1 June 1850.  Eliza was 17 years old.

Eliza (Kirwan) Wade

Eliza married William Wade about a year later.  They lived in York for a while but travelled with, or followed the Kirwans when they went to South Australia aboard ‘Anna Dixon’.  The Kirwans made their way to the Flinders Ranges and set up eatinghouses to supply the teams who would carry goods through the mining camps in the area, before the railway went through.  Kirwans also carried the mail and conducted mining ventures in the area. Nicholas Wade Kirwan was born in Blinman South Australia on 19 March 1878.

The Wades had a lot of children, and it would most likely have been one of Eliza and William’s children or grandchildren who took care of Frank when he was a boy.  The Kirwan and Wade families seem to have remained close – Richard gave Nicholas the middle name ‘Wade’.  There are a number of ‘Wade Kirwans’ and ‘Kirwan Wades’ in both families.  Eliza was Nicholas’ aunt, so one of her children would have been a first cousin to Nicholas.

Frank was artistic.  He became a ticket writer as a young man.  His cousin, Doreen Burvill (Miriel Doreen Kirwan) told me that she was working in a big department store in Perth and looked out the window one day to see her cousin, Frank Kirwan crossing the street from the railway station.  She ran out to greet him, and ended up getting him a job as a ticket writer in the same department store. Frank was about 21 at that time.  Ticket writers painted cards with the prices of goods in the shops to display in the window displays or within the shop itself.

Frank became a sign writer.  My mother told me recently that many of the shops around Norseman, where my father grew up, bore signs painted by Frank.  She said she could tell which ones he’d painted, even years later, because ‘they had a certain look’.

I remember my grandad signwriting a speedway car with an all-over Snoopy design when I was a child.

I often wonder how or if grandad’s life would have been different, if he had grown up in different circumstances.

Frank was in the Airforce in World War II.  He enlisted in Norseman and served as a Leading Airman.  He enlisted on 23 October 1942, which incidentally was my father’s fifth birthday.  He was discharged on 31 January 1946.

Frank was well known in Norseman.  He visited a Hanna cousin he had not seen for a long time, and told him that any letter simply addressed to ‘Slim, Norseman’ would reach him.  The cousin tested the theory, not really believing Frank, and Frank sent him the envelope with his reply, as proof that he had actually received it.


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