NO MORE NAIL MAKING! The turn of the  20th century saw a migration of many ‘Black Country’ families who had toiled in home cottage nail making forges for hundreds of years. They hung on to the family business till the last industry sigh. I wonder if when they got into their new terraced houses in Selly Oak, 9 miles away closer to Birmingham, that they should have moved on sooner! 


My Great Great Grandparents Joseph and Agnes Southall(nee Martin) saw their best bet at the new industrial and housing estate at Selly Oak.

Selly Oak plan


Josh/Joseph Southall













My Dad was so rooted in Selly Oak, he felt his family had been born and bred there for generations. He was born in the front bedroom of 26 Exeter Rd.

My return trip to childhood home 2010 - the front room bedroom where Higgins babies came into the world.

My return trip to childhood home 2010 – the front room bedroom where Higgins babies came into the world.

RESILIENCE : Late 19th century terraced housing for 100 years of the labouring class, now for Birmingham University students lodgings.

RESILIENCE : Late 19th century terraced housing for 100 years of the labouring class, now for Birmingham University students lodgings.

Family history

An industrial heritage of Birmingham


In 1901 Joseph and Agnes Southall with children rented a house at 33 Exeter Rd. Selly Oak close to where all the jobs were. Ariel Cycles

From 1600 the Southalls had been making nails in Dudley, Worcestershire, then the industry drew to a close with foreign competition. JOSEPH and AGNES SOUTHALL had to move from their dilapitated housing with open sewers because the wealthy didn’t want to invest in plumbing for the dirt poor.

The change would improve their lot in life, a better standard of living. In 1901 they are living in the relatively new workers terrace housing estate of Selly Oak, 9 miles away.

Queen Street on the left end of the plans was changed to our Street, Exeter Road.

The logo of Birmingham city perfectly represents our families heritage: IRON & COAL& MANUFACTURE= hard, cheap, unsafe labours with a fresh coat of paint! Working through the British census of the nineteenth century plus birth, marriage and death certificates of my Staffordshire and Worcestershire working class kin it is not until this migration to Birmingham we were taught to read and write! X no longer was our mark in the game of life!

THE CORNER SHOP – HUBERT AND EXETER RD where my great great grandparent Josh and Agnes Southall shopped, being at 33 Exeter Rd a few doors down.

Cnr Hubert Rd-Exeter Rd

1911 22 Exeter Rd AUNTIE ELIZA LIVES A TWO DOOR DOWN FROM GRT GRAN HANNAH PRIME/HIGGINS/SOUTHALL AT 26. They both work at Ariel, working Mums. 22 EXETER RD. ELIZA ELLIIOTT NEE SOUTHALL works at Ariel Cycles and the mother of 10 month old baby girl Winifred. Husband also works at Ariel factory.

Reflections on ALP renewal from my Queenslander perch

Julie McNeill:

I’m very slowly recuperating from active service in the QLD A.L.P branch (including Secretary). Like the tributaries of a river it should never get clogged up so it can keep moving and evolving. The movement  from Wivenoe to the Somerset branch at Esk ends my personal labours, and a creeping resurgence of mental illness.

I sensed growing resistance about my ideas from branch members; I didn’t understand why a branch face book page was being criticised apart only I was being censored. The dynamics within the branch were changing. It happens. I’m just too out there for some.

I reared up and hissed like a snake in Spring. Frayed nerves, and the Big Canberra Picture of ongoing partisanship in offshore indefinite detendtion for refugees from my own Party reached it’s intolerable zenith.

I knew the black dogs of despair and the rabid distress of losing one’s sanity so I certainly don’t believe the persecuted have to be persecuted again and again. I voted for Bill Shorten in the Labor leadership. I was under an illusion he could be the next Ben Chifley type, but Machievelli rules career politicians – Cruel means to a cruel end.

For my own sake I retreat or like Voltaire said in Candide – in the end we must cultivate the garden.

The main purpose of any local branch is to support an endorsed candidate for your electorate and naturally the wider Labor cause, but most of our meetings were spent in lively discussion of policies and passing motions to contribute to the processes within the Party.
It was very satisfying to have regular attendance and get to know your Members of Parliament at monthly meetings, community stalls and campaigning.
I had tried a couple of Ipswich branches to start with, as there was nothing closer to home – 20-30mins drive away.

Trying to present a civil, rational debate on decriminilising abortion caused a stir apparently. It was a no go area!
It was then I learned the majority of members were not only from our senior citizenry but also Roman Catholics, and working class, country town folk. The Secretary and I stood in the doorway and directed my gaze to the membership, ‘look at them’…

The DLP/ALP split legacy from the 1950’s still resonates.

The ghost of B.A. Santamaria permeates the present corridors of Power in Australia. Old world religion, misogyny, exclusion, anti-science, is the order and control of the day.

My idea to set up a Brisbane Valley branch as a place to wake any hibernating Labor voters along the Brisbane Valley Highway to Esk was met by pessimism and derision; Don’t get involved with them, they’re all mad!
This was just the incentive I needed…
I was naieve then to political factions and historical histrionics.
I grew up in a consciousness raising feminist era of the big smoke in the UK and Melbourne, so I went along to the Labor Women’s Conference in Brisbane and enjoyed my sister comrades zeal in reinforcing social justice issues.
I shared my dissatisfaction with an organiser and it occurred to her the Wivenhoe branch had been formed in
the wake of the Pauline Hanson assault on our senses by Virginia Clarke who was endorsed to run against her.

Wivenhoe members were passionate about the same issues so it suited us for me to take on the role of Secretary and hold meetings at my home and along the Highway.A regular pitch at the popular Fernvale Markets increased our profile and helped us to hear what locals were thinking, and gently persuade people of our values and policies!

Former Labor leader and Governor General Bill Hayden and his wife Dallas lived locally so I invited him(even though he’d changed his mind about an Australian Republic!). He gave it some thought, he said, but he had long and loyal ties to his Ipswich branch and remarked he had been interested to hear how I had managed to activate a branch which wasn’t supposed to exist.


For the present I continue with my research and writing of a historical fiction set in 17th century London – there are many parallels to today, though I feel safe being an omnipresent narrator! I’ll be archiving my political labor blog soon, until then,

 “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”
George Orwell, 1984

MY political blogging is at

Originally posted on mikesmithonline:

Qld State Library

Qld State Library Files

Labor governments and oppositions often squander 2/3 of their time, by misunderstanding the role of marginal seat campaigning.

Instead of spending the years immediately post-election persuading the community Labor’s values and vision reflect community interests, and Labor’s policies reflect the best of Australia, too many in the ALP machines and parliamentary leadership say their focus must be to mirror the views of persuadable voters in marginal seats.

Yes, Prime Ministers

Yes, Prime Ministers

They fail the leadership test: like Jim Hacker, they seem to think “I am their leader – I must follow them”.

They fail to understand the key job of a leader, the thing that makes them a leader – or not – is identifying what needs to be done that isn’t, and generating support.

Where Labor spends a whole term focused on marginal seat perspectives, they’re not articulating a vision to the community, not…

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: Split Rock walk                Roy from Laura - Quinkan guide

Tagging along older age citizens and intrepid tourists to Split Rock, near Laura with Indigenous guide, Roy.

scary woman!

Quinkan Galleries





Julie McNeill:

1995-2014 is how long since we migrated to Queensland. My husband is close to retirement and contemplating a revival of his Puppetry passion. We are attempting to fix the house up before our income is reduced. At least Roy will be secure from the absolutist welfare policies of the present day Abbott Government(CONSERVATIVES).

I am not looking forward to being called a ‘job snob’ when I explain the mainstream workforce makes me mentally ill(literally) to the instruments of this Lib/Nat Coalition Governments ideology. Can I claim my arts practise as working for the dole?

Cultural policy? Nah… moving everything onto the verandah to polish the floor boards I stopped to peruse the photo albums and archival magasines of our Puppetry chapters in our life. Scanned a couple of pages to my earlier stock-taking, from the Victorian Education Department which funded the Theatre In Education section with an enthusiastic teacher/administrator, Sue Galley.

THOSE WERE THE DAYS – when the Arts were valued in every child’s education and the Commonwealth was re-distributed wider.

I met my husband Roy when he was making “The Adventures of Platypus Phil” – to get to the kitchen one had to go under the blue shimmering creek across the loungeroom and his dead-line was the annual preview of shows for school teachers who could book in eary….It also provided free postage for a mail-out to every school in Victoria.

I was a a Co-director and Youth Arts co-ordinator at Fringe Network in Brunswick St. Fitzroy(former Flying Trapeze cafe). The rest of the Melbourne Fringe Arts Festival planners were being funded by a combination of arts and employment schemes. My full-time wage was for 6months thanks to Labor’s Commonwealth Employment Scheme. I was sent off to learn how to touch type.

Very useful for our future inspired and original puppetry and poetry enterprises.

Typical of most artsworkers on $8-$20,000 a year it was necessary to supplement living with unemployment benefits even though we were writing, building, rehearsing, collaborating and submitting arts grant applications to the Australia Council – cultural arts body set up under Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
The last time the Arts were championed was when Paul Keating was Prime Minister: Creative Nation.

We auditioned the original and innovative Platypus Phil in front of the representative of the Queensland Arts Council. Unlike the rest of Australia they had a tight control on what was seen and censored. You can read in this older post how we experienced our first experiences of censorship and barriers to take our show to Queensland audiences.

Originally posted on FAIRNEY VIEW e-scape:

I was anxiously awaiting an audience for Jika Jika Puppets from North Fitzroy, Melbourne. They were part of my Youth Arts program for the first Melbourne Fringe Festival(1983) that I was a founding member of, and hardly anybody had turned up!Summoning courage I went up to the puppeteer, Roy McNeill, who was dressed in black clothes. He eased my feelings of incompetence by saying it was okay, because he was training a puppeteer(Maeve Vella) into the show of The Four Chinese Brothers and they would look at it as a rehearsal.

A group of young unemployed performers and musicians who had hitched their way up the Nepean Highway from Frankston sat with me, cross-legged on the floor. We were enthralled by the Japanese style Bunraku rod puppets and the way they came to life. The sets were original, incorporating musical instruments within them, like the giant triangle used as a gong.

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When a writer like my mate Liz is confronted by careless neighbours who are making magpies fall from the sky due to pesticide poisoning with the cozy permits of local councils the pen must become the sword in the battle of protection for the environment and all creatures great and small.

As many environmental activists know, the most frustrating thing is our public servants who are getting a full-time wage and maybe a car are not acting on what we expect. Thus the ancient Davids have to use whatever is to hand, to write press stories, blog, organise placards, attend meetings, fundraise because what is common sense is mystifyingly suspect.

Praises to all the good folks around Greenbank who persevered against toxins in their home environment. It shouldn’t have been necessary to have to embark on such a long, drawn-out campaign which caused unnecessary stressors on relationships and between neighbours and the officials of their local government who should have the wellbeing of their residents as first concern.

The corruption of values doesn’t seem to go away. The interests of capital over people and the natural environment is real and ongoing all over the country and the world.

As Germaine Greer rehabilitated her land, a Gold Coast hinterland farmer had told her any organic agriculture was pointless on their properties after the Queensland authorities bought all the excess chemicals like DDT from the USA at the end of the Vietnam War, and sprayed it along every roadside and park for council weed-killing…….

They wouldn’t do this sort of thing in this day and age would they? It seems our elected representatives are willing to kill the Great Barrier Reef for short-term material gain, so we have to let the grand-kids know, sorry you can’t trust them to do more good than harm.

Good on ya Liz and Kim – you survived to tell the tale of the Aussie battlers of Greenbank, and now more time to sing and write and rehabilitate.


A Novel project in progress for 2014


There is one story about Cromwell and his Roundheads which you may not realise you know.

The nursery rhyme

Goosey goosey gander,
Where shall I wander,
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn’t say his prayers,
So I took him by the left leg
And threw him downstairs.

This refers to “goose-stepping” Roundheads who would search houses for Royalists. Anyone who refused to accept Puritan ways was arrested and thrown in jail.

 When I was a little girl walking home from primary school I wished I could explore my family tree. What triggered this desire has vanished, but being 51 now with adult children flown and nests of their own, I have my  PC and wi-fi of my own, plus a home of my own(though not a house-keeper like Virginia Woolf).
The Past and Present have are aligned with my desires and scientific applications. Dr. Who and I time-travellers in t.v. 51st year!

THE OBSESSION LANDED AT THE FEET OF MY 11th Great Grandmother Thomasine Cannaday born in the Parish of Stepney, baptised at St. John of Wapping C of E 11 March 1632. Daughter of Hugh, a Mariner and Rope Maker. Resident at Gun Alley.

Then the first civil war began. The separation of powers was fought in blood and mayhem. The East London folk built barricades in 1642 to defend themselves against their own King – Charles 1st…

This was where she first met John Clark.

My Great Grandmother 12 generations past.

A Novel project for 2013.  A year gone by already and what have I done? I must stop pressuring myself – allow the characters to live within the context of the times. January or Janus reminds me I am looking back and realising we are still dealing with the same issues – control – power – justice….




My Faith was shaken to the core.

A black disease had been released by a demonic dagger. My breath became laboured. I needed Johnny. He was my Rock, but I couldn’t desert my Post outside the rooms of General Cromwell. This was a test of my character. God knows why. It didn’t sound like the General was battling with his conscience!

Thou Shalt not commit Adultery! It had been drummed into us at many chapel meetings. We had fought and won a Holy war for a better society. We were New Model soldiers singing Psalms in unison with the vision and power to create a better world to live in.

The first Acts of Parliament struck the tone. The penalty of adultery was death. It seemed a bit harsh to me and John afterall you would be killing off most of the population of Sailor-town like my dad in Stepney after he’d had too many ales..
We trusted our superiors to know what they were doing. They had a higher calling. My loyalty ran deep to General Cromwell.

Confusion knawed at my insides. Cromwell was my Commander, yet God, through the Lord Jesus Christ was Supreme Commander in this world and the next.

I wish I hadn’t said I would be honoured to fill this guard in the Palace this evening. It was obvious Providence had placed me here. I prayed to be relieved of my duty.

Perhaps I was imagining things? It was worse than if my own Father, had been fornicating with another woman and I as witness. When a rumour of his infidelity reached my long suffering Mother she told me the betrayal might hurt, but adultery always ended up being hung around the woman’s neck in any coupling.

Another time Mother came home from Church and said she’d thought long and hard about the Fall and how God had cursed Mother Eve for the want of learning and then Father arrived with his drunken mates he’d met down the tavern and slapped her on the arse and told her to get some cooking for our good friends.
“Help your good mother cater for our guests, Thomasin” and he winked and took out his mouth organ to incite them to sing some of the old sea shanty’s. It helped us perform our duties to everybody’s satisfaction.

When later I met John at Ratcliff Stairs I asked him. Would he commit adultery on his wife. He shook his head and I believed him.
“Such questions from a young maid” he exclaimed as if he was ancient! Would you John. Will you make a trust worthy, Godly husband? He blushed. Why was he blushing? That was a whole other life-time. We had been through wars together, witnessed far worse atrocity against the Almighty than sticking the cock in a woman when she wanted it.

Even with these thoughts I, Private Thom Clark was bitter walking back to the billet later that evening. She could tell her soul to John and he would listen. Thankyou God for providing such a godly man. Thankyou. Thankyou. Thankyou. Amen.

Dear Jesus, what would you do finding your apostle breaking your Father’s commandment; Thou shalt not commit adultery.

That is what was going on, wasn’t it? Adultery? I had heard the Lord Protector talking so familiar to a woman in his room. I thought it was his wife. It was nice to hear him laugh, but I grew uncomfortable as the voices sounded flirtacious. You would expect it of course, except when Private Hubbard broke from his stern demeanour and mouthed to me, it’s not his wife – and typical of a soldier, even most Puritan ones, he lapsed into a rude gesture suggesting he approved of what his Lord was doing.

The image of the Lord Protector in the front of my eyes. His laughter delighting her, his mistress?

He shouldn’t be laughing like that, nor she! Where was

At the very beginning of the Commonwealth, when we signed up for a Puritan society grown to it’s natural grace there was an Act of Parliament imposing the death penalty for incest and adultery and 3 months for fornication.
John and I agreed it would save the sacred institute of Marriage between a man and a woman and make is sacrosanct. It protected the integrity of the family. Though John had some doubts some men couldn’t control their urges and you’d kill half of the men in the land for being too weak to walk away from temptation.

You have to take charge of your manly tool as much as a soldier maintains his weapon. You saw secret men’s exercising their birthright to self-release. Girl, your name is Eve! God wanted to protect his children as a good Father.

Tears were running down my face. John, I wouldn’t be without you! Perhaps that’s what our Lord Cromwell thinks about his Mistress. She is his relief from ravages of war so he has a clear head to command. Afterall we are no persons to judge our superiors when we ourselves are trespassing the codes. If found out we would surely swing by the rope, even without fornication.

I sat on the edge of the camp bed. So it’s all right to make the Law and not obey it? What is the word John? To describe it?

John shrugged. You can go. I want to be alone.

You are right. Let this remain between them and God’s will. We are humble servants and soldiers. I will pray for guidance John. I will lay my head and rest. Tell the lads I am recovering from some rum.

She lay her head and the word sprang to mind – Hypocrite – her most admired man in this world was an adulterer. God had revealed this fact to her. Why?

Would she be an accuser and have him held up as an adulterer? John had told her sincerely, it was not her job to save Cromwell. Then why was she a witness to his sinning?

DNA of the Black Death at East Smithfield, London

Julie McNeill:

I am achieving potential thanks to internet technology.

My self-learning of British history and herstory  show knowledge is power – like the motto on my primary school building. I’ve been born to mature into a time where the democratisation of knowledge is easier.  It has become common knowledge the genes we carry can protect us long enough to survive and procreate, but they also give us a pre-disposition to other diseases including mental well-being.

Deaths by disease on individuals have devastating impact on families affecting the next generation. Joining the British Army to feed and clothe yourself can be catastrophic on the woman you marry as Syphillus like my Grandparents in 19th and 20th century Scotland and Ireland.

T.B. killed leaving widows and young children in a time when the woman was evicted for being without a bread-winning husband….no wonder there was such resistance for women getting the vote.

If a woman could survive childbirth without an infection, she was lucky. Medical discoveries like antibiotics have relieved us from suffering and stopped us from dying.

Open minds and willingness to follow scientific leads – will lead us further in insight. Investment in scientific research may help us defeat the bacteria and viruses evolve resistance to our old potions and give us Hell on earth – obliterate our existence.

Australia has a Conservative Prime Minister who has devalued Science – no tax on pollution to fund greenhouse reduction,  an ignorance of the necessity of Science as a key threat to the economy by not interested in conserving ecologies, or even bothering to have a  Minister for Science. 

Science is everywhere not God Prime Minister – exploiting knowledge for money’s sake can also be our down-fall, our misery, our extinction. It depresses me. 

Now, I escape, time-travel the generations and enjoy the ride to the destintion. I have  arrived in East London 1600! A Mariner, called Hugh Cannaday marries Thomasin Lloyd in 1631. I can find documents of 5 children, but only 1, my Great Grandmother x 11 – Why? Was she the only one to survive – a new fact of life and death and grief emerges.

Sailors, Prostitutes and Puritans!

More bodies for the Thames.

Bills of Mortality

Originally posted on Contagions:

It seems as though every couple of months a new paper is published reporting Yersinia pestis DNA from ancient remains. This week brought the latest installment from London’s East Smithfield Black Death cemetery. This cemetery holds a special place in the scientific investigations of the Black Death because it is so well documented as being specifically for the first wave of plague in 1348-1350 and the  recovery of so many well-preserved skeletons. This cemetery has been the subject of several bioaracheological studies, primarily by former plague skeptic Sharon DeWitte, making this one of the best characterized set of Black Death victims yet to be discovered. DeWitte is also one of the co-authors of this study.

Using a new method of ‘targeted enrichment’  and high through-put sequencing an international group led by Hendrik Poinar was able to clone and sequence relatively long stretches of Yersinia pestis DNA from recovered remains. They…

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