a breath of yesteryear

Once again nose to the scent of a family history trail, I was looking for names, dates and places but what I found was so much better: the opportunity to spend some time, in a fashion, with the G.O.’s Pop Mac.

Apparently there’s been family history research done on the G.O.’s mother’s paternal family side but I’ve never seen the fruits of it. Possibly I haven’t asked the right questions of the right person at the right time. Regardless, I like doing my own snooping research. Curious, I Googled the G.O.’s grandfather’s name and got not what I was looking for but more than I’d bargained.

The G.O. and I were pleased, and a little surprised, to come across a published version of his grandfather Roy Mackaway’s (1912-1994) work “Nulla Nulla”. The G.O. tells me he sat with his Pop for many hours as he one-finger-typed poems and stories. Roy always wanted them to be formally published. We have a copy of an early version of this work, and now a hardcopy for the G.O. and e-book for me of Jan Hawkins’ “Around the Campfire” 2013 published version.

I could give Nulla Nulla nothing less than 5 stars in my Goodreads review. “A time capsule of entertaining, amusing… sometimes poignant and hilarious… stories and poems. The author has a lively turn of phrase and is a talented storyteller and poet.” Lively turn of phrase may be understating it. I made the mistake of reading “The Pickle Bottle Poultice” on a crowded train. It describes Roy’s wife treating a boil on his “goat”  in the manner prescribed by his Grandpa. “The [dreaded] pickle poultice is short for pickle poultice murder…”

“… My Grandpa, he’s dead and gone now,
may the angels bless his soul.
For he’s the only man this side of hell,
that’s got a Grandson with two bum holes”

Wikipedia describes a nulla nulla (aka waddy) as “an Australian Aboriginal war club… A waddy is a heavy club constructed of carved timber. Waddies have been used in hand to hand combat, and were capable of splitting a shield, and killing or stunning prey. In addition to this they could be employed as a projectile as well as used to make fire and make ochre.”

Pop Mac adopted this name for his writing. In his words “Nulla Nulla is a stick, with a great knob on one end. One of its uses is when a young aboriginal lad was beginning to feel a bit lonely and he reckoned he needed a wife, he would wait until the middle of the day when it was a bit hot and he would sneak up to the water hole where all the young girls from other tribes would be having a swim. He would pick the best and spring on her like a greyhound with a bull-ant under his tail and if she gave any trouble he gave her a slight tap on the noggin’ with his nulla, throw her over his shoulder and head back to his tribe. In this way they were married.”

As well as being published, Nulla Nulla : a collection of Australian prose & poems by Cecil Roy Mackaway is held in the National Library of Australia and State Library of Queensland collection.

I’ve been distracted from my intended family history research but I will get back to it. There’s a wealth of clues in the book.

Often dipping into Goodreads quotes looking for tried & true words in the form of quotes to supplement my own literary efforts, I was thrilled and a little bemused to read the following of Roy’s recorded by Goodreads for posterity.

“Just Fat and Cuddly
There’s Aunty, just out of bed, looking a little glum and gloomy,
but I tell you mate, she’s put on weight as her frocks ain’t nice and roomy.
I’ll send her west where there ain’t no pests, where frogs all croak for water,
and I tell you mate she’ll loose the weight and once again she’ll be a corker.
I’m now heading back to my mountain shack, this only if I get the time,
for things won’t go well, she’ll give me hell, when she reads this little rhyme.”
― Cecil Roy Mackaway, Nulla Nulla (Around the Campfire Book 7) Cecil R Mackaway (Author), Eric S Hawkins (Illustrator), Jan Hawkins (Photographer)

The G.O. has long memorialized his Pop with the words "Nulla Nulla" signwritten on his ute. He is currently driving Nulla Nulla 2.
The G.O. has long memorialized his Pop with the words “Nulla Nulla” signwritten on his ute. He is currently driving Nulla Nulla 2.

A glimpse into the book is available via Amazon, one of the options for purchasing it.

Nulla Nulla

a collection of Australian Prose and Poems

by Cecil Roy Mackaway

published by Jan Hawkins

As noted by the publisher, Jan Hawkins:

“Cecil Roy Mackaway grew up in the Hunter Valley* north of Sydney, touched by a time now passed. Fresh from the influenced of a family with a convict colonial history he witnessed a world, seen from a unique view. His stories and poems bring to life the Australian colonial era and life lived from the Bushman’s perspective. Not always politically correct in today’s society, he none the less brings a richness and variety to our history and the tale of life as it was lived in the bush in a era now gone.”

“The Author gave the copyright to this collection of prose and poems into my care some years ago, to be published in time. I found the writing so delightful and entertaining that I have published it now for the general public. I invite you to step back into colonial Australia, into a time now passed and see the world through the eyes of someone who enjoyed the adventure of life and the living of it.

These works have been presented as originally written with minimal editing, preserving the vernacular and prose of the era passed where possible, which may be seen in the use of italics. The terms used in the past may not be appropriate if used in the discourse of the present day. If these terms are likely to offend please so not read this book. Neither the Author or Publisher intends to offend.

In publishing these works I would like to introduce Cecil Roy Mackaway, a friend, a relative and an inspiring writer and poet.”

The anthology begins…

“A Breath of Yesteryear

From the Memoirs of

Cecil Roy Mackaway

I was born in 1912 and reared at Dyers Crossing on the Wallamba River in New South Wales, Australia. My Grandmother was the daughter of a young Englishman, he was sent out to the colonies by his family for colonial experience like so many young men from England. It is believed however that he was murdered on the gold field at Bendigo…”

And includes…

“Old Cobbers

I sit alone in my mountain home with a pencil in my hand,

tryin’ to think of a line or two, for my cobbers down on the Strand.

They’re rushing here and rushing there as life is just one way,

and they forget their mates up bush, that they knew in another day.

So life goes on and years pass by, where’s it getting you in the end?

A cripple from rush and strife, or slightly ’round the bend. So I’ll sit up here and write good cheer for them mates down in the Strand,

and tell them about the fish I caught and latest about the brand.

Perhaps they will think of me whilst strolling in the Strand.”

* Dyers Crossing is correctly located in the Wallamba Valley near Nabiac on the Mid North Coast.

33 thoughts on “a breath of yesteryear

    1. Reading Roy’s stories had another dimension for me; an insight to how much he and the G.O. are alike. The wonder of modern day genealogy is the wealth of info on the ‘web.


    1. Thank you 🙂 Roy’s stories were very much of his time. That’s what makes them gold. Roy’s engaging style assists the reader to disengage current sensibilities.


  1. I love doing things that help us reach a deeper understanding of our beloved (or even not so beloved!) family members. What a find, though, that Pop Mac had written such work and that it is published! Some of those colourful turns of phrase are wonderful. I like that his writing was minimally edited and the disclaimer stated to ‘not read it if one is likely to be offended’. The over sanitation of things in the name of political correctness is rampant in our culture. Lovely post, EllaDee.


    1. Thank you 🙂 My own familys’ history research just adds to my sense of who I am, and other family history to who we are. The poems and stories are priceless; that he recorded them, that they have been published as Roy wanted them to be, and available widely for posterity is wonderful.
      I enjoyed too, that the stories were written in authentic vernacular, not intended to offend or vilify.


  2. Fantastic, EllaDee! What a treasured find. It makes me wonder who are the poets of this generation. There certainly are the characters around, but are they writing poems and recording their stories? Will their grandchildren find such treasure troves?


    1. Thank you 🙂 The G.O. writes very good poetry on occasion, and is a great [oral] storyteller. One of my – longer term – goals now is for us to record Nulla Nulla 2 – a later generation.
      I think what many bloggers are doing, as well as sharing it, is making a valuable record of daily life and creativity that would be lost without the medium.
      I hope the next generations find value and delight in it 🙂


  3. What a wonderful post – am all ready to do more homework re the ‘Nulla Nulla’. Am increasingly fascinated by our erstwhile bush poets: not a word wasted and the tale always told just the way it was and is . . .


    1. Thank you 🙂 I enjoy Australian poetry, bush and otherwise, particularly Kenneth Slessor and Bruce Dawe. But Pop Mac’s poetry resonated, and made me laugh.


  4. This is awesome. How thrilling to have the writings of his grandfather. My grandparents weren’t very well educated (except for one), but I’d love to have something they’d written. After my one educated grandmother died, I found a diary of hers from when she was 20 years old. It was pretty worn out and difficult to make out the letters, but it was fun to decipher.
    Thanks for sharing this.


    1. Thank you. I find the past and its people an interesting place. Reading Nulla Nulla felt somewhat like listening to the G.O. tell stories, he and his Pop are alike. Reading your grandmother’s diary would have been fantastic:)


  5. Brilliant stuff! I’m off to put that on my kindle now, I love an unsanitised version of history, you get to see the real people of the time.

    What a wonderful piece of your family to find. 😀


    1. Thank you 🙂 I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. The G.O. said even he hadn’t heard some of those stories. Unsanitised anything works for me – I prefer to my make own judgements.


  6. This is absolutely fantastic. I get so excited when I find out more about my family history, but this is an absolute blast. What an amazing character – no wonder the GO is so proud of him. The people in my area don’t even know what the words ‘political correctness’ mean (LOL). I’m buying that book! 😀


    1. Thank you 🙂 We stopped by the cemetery and “visited” Pop Mac while we were away and told him the news he had been published.
      Oh yes, necessary ‘political correctness’ is somewhat in the eye of the beholder…


  7. Fascinating! Very exciting to be so closely linked to such fun chronicles and poetry depicting the social mores of Mr Mackaway senior. I think a biography of him would be a very rewarding and well-received project, Ella.


    1. Thank you. I’m not sure the G.O. or I are up to writing a biography but I’d love to work on another volume of stories and poems, and there’s no shortage of material although I may have to buy a tape recorder to mine them.


      1. Very much so. The Daughter and I were watching Anzac Girls on ABC last night and we both agreed that Olive is our favourite character because she’s so quintessentially aussie. Apparently at least some of the story is based on actual people and actual historical records so I’m hoping the humour is an accurate reflection of the times too. 🙂


        1. There always seems to be just enough “haters” to perpetuate it… a few days after MH 17 went down, at the markets I overhead a crazy conversation in front of a food stall from a local restaurant advertising Russian Treats… “that’s disgraceful, they should call it something else, who’d want to eat Russian food”…


    1. Thank you. How fortunate we were that Roy had a passion to writing down his stories & poems. In our modern e-world, it is so much easier and there is so much more material available for posterity.


  8. The preview on Amazon was fascinating. So much colour in so few pages. Given the warning she’d given, I found italicising the words unnecessary as it gave them undue emphasis and was distracting. But how lovely to have it published and available to a wider audience. You should def put together Nulla Nulla 2.


    1. Thank you. I guess Janet was simply being cautious, catering to a unknown demographic, and it would be awful to have the book go the way of so many others entirely appropriate in their era but which have been pulled or censored for their “transgressions” in current times.
      Oh yes, I’ll be paying closer attention to the G.O.’s stories now that I have Nulla Nulla 2 to think about 🙂


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