Sunday, May 21, 2023

Un-Blocked At Last

In case no-one has noticed, I should explain that I am having trouble making a start on any of those writing projects I told myself I’d be doing to soak up the damp hours and soggy days of retirement (enforced, or otherwise)

When someone asked Anthony Burgess if he had ever had writer's block, he shot back, in typical snarky Burgess fashion, “Of course not. I am a writer. I write. Have you ever heard of a cobbler getting cobbler’s block?”



My paternal great-great-grandfather, Charles Radnell was one of the two cobblers in a small town of Tarnagulla, initially called Sandy Creek, in "The Golden Triangle" of central Victoria in the mid/late 19th century, from the time of rapid development in that area during the great gold rush. 

His father (also named Charles) back in Nottingham was a leather-worker and harness-maker, and GGGF Charles presumably picked up the suitable shoe-making skills from him. It seems that after said GGGF Charles passed away in 1890, the tools of the trade; its awls, chisels, punches, edgers and various knives and cutters, and shoe rests or lasts, presumably went to his son (my GGF) William John, the second child with that name. His namesake, the firstborn, died at 10 months while GGGF Charles and GGGM Sarah were living in a tent town, in the goldfields of Llanelly at the height of the Victoran gold rush. 

"Diggers" were coming in from all over, including Hong Kong and the provence of Canton. There are several Chinese memorials doing their best to survive the elements in the town's cemetery. Lots of stories which I won't go into here about the struggles of the Chinese in Australia during the gold rush. 

For the lucky few, a good living could be made in the many gold strikes in the region, such as the Poverty Reef mine, right in the heart of Tarnagulla, which was still in full stride when GGGF Charles moved into town in 1853. Several of his sons, GGF William John maybe, and his brothers, later worked there. Two of the six brothers, Charles(!) and George, were killed in action in the Great War.

I am guessing this heritage of cobblerdom because I don't know what GGF William John's actual trade was, but when his daughter, my paternal GM, Ethel [daughter of Annie née Titus - aunt of the great Richmond footballer in the then VFL, now AFL, Jack Titus] married my GF, John George Ramm, apparently known as George. [Geo. the Neat Executor of the card, below], the evidence would strongly suggest that he learnt the trade as well. ["Bot. of" - meaning: ???] 

There was only one cobbler in town by 1920. That would have GF Geo, who lived there until he passed in 1950. 

A young GF John George (Geo.) Facial enhancement by Topaz AI.

Of course, back in the heady rushed days of sudden golden wealth and desperate arduous slog in mud and non-glittering rock, those gold miners needed solid work boots. Their wives needed dress shoes too,  maybe with bows on them, for social events at the town's Garibaldi Lodge or, in later days with Geo as bootmaker, at the Masonic hall in nearby Dunolly... 

So for a fair part of a century, the Radnells and a Ramm ran the town's cobbler business, unblocked.


Aside: The Poverty Reef mine in Tarnagulla was named after Poverty Bay, the New Zealand home of the two prospectors who made the first strike there. And then they made their fortune. Isn't that ironic! Doncha think?

The mine was intermittently operational until quite recently, though it peaked production with 13½ ton(!) of gold in the inital years of 1852-53.

As the seam became exhausted, different methods of gold extraction were tried there, and the first cyanide factory in Australia was built just behind it. 

Some locals


This is the house where my paternal family lived. I guess it is where my father was born. When we were young kids, our widowed mother required respite, so each summer we stayed with my uncle and aunt who still lived there, for two weeks or so. But we weren't to go into the closed front room, the one behind what once might have been a shop window (presuming here), under the recently refurbished awning. 

Too much important stuff in there for clumsy children. General uncle and aunt storage, my father's stamp collection for sure, etc... And some of my great-great, and great, and grandfather's work implements. 

When we were allowed in, once only I think in the many years we holidayed there, I recall trying to figure what this strange multi-footed steel montrosity was exactly. I doubt that we could have damaged it, however clumsy we were.

(Not GGGF's or GF's but same same.)

A cobbler's last. A block of steel that allowed consistant work from a range of angles. Shoes for men, women, and children, made to order. Neatly executed repairs. And cheap! 

If I had one now, I would rub it as a talisman of progress, and getting a move on from this blogger's block would be  


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