Erle Vernon Smythe (Vern)

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Born at Jerilderie, Vern was registered as Erle Vernon Smythe, although the Smiths had not officially changed their name. As he was forbidden to swear he developed the habit of saying "crumb" which earned him the nickname, "Crumb". With more cheek and confidence than his older brothers who had a lot of responsibility he became his father's favourite. Using his charm, he got away with independent behaviour. The day after his fourteenth birthday he joined the PMG at Jerilderie. Two years later he was moved to Narrandera where the postmaster died and Vern aged sixteen was left in charge.

When the First World War broke out he put his age up a little to go overseas with his oldest brother. The youngest of the four brothers in the AIF, noted for his trim, dapper appearance and quick wit, he was decorated and was swiftly promoted to Captain. On leave he went to Ireland to visit the homeland of his maternal grandfather and met Mary Hanna Hyndman from a well-to-do family.

Vern came home from the war with an MC and bar, the rank of understudy to the brigade major and his Irish bride, Mary, who amazed and surprised the Smythes with her large trousseau and her formal British manners. He did not collect all his medals and did not join the RSL although he went in the Anzac Day Marches a few times to meet old friends.

To improve his status Vern studied and became an accountant, an insurance adjuster and finally the secretary of a big company, Atlantic Union Oils in Australia, allowing him a comfortable lifestyle at Mosman. He studied business law and handling conveyancing to do with new service stations. Their only son, William, (Bill) named after Mary's brother in Ireland was educated at Tudor House and King's School.

After the death of his mother in 1936, Vern gave his share of the proceeds of the home, "Koppin Yarratt" to Ida and Charlie. When his youngest brother Beau died two years later, he went to Cowra with Perce, and gave the information for the death certificate.

Later he and Mary designed and built a house in Wollstonecraft, which they named "Trentagh" after her Irish home. It was a grand two-storey house full of reminiscences of Ireland and with two bathrooms, one with bright blue tiles. Perce and Dorrie lived nearby and sometimes visited, Dorrie feeling that "Juniper" was pokey in comparison. By the time he retired he was the chief accountant and conveyancing officer for Vacuum Oil Company. Almost all their married life, Mary's Irish mother, Margaret Hyndman lived with them although at one time she had felt that Mary had "married beneath her". They always behaved "correctly" and did not serve a cup of tea with meals and other things not considered "genteel". There was resistance to "mod cons" such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Although Mary was not of robust health, having developed goitre and blood pressure, her mother loved inviting people to afternoon tea, and expected a delicious spread. One day Mary had a mild heart attack and Vern finally said enough.

When Vern went to buy his first car, which had tassels for the passengers to hang on to, he took his mother-in-law with him. As Mary and her mother rode in the back Vern said he would buy a chauffeur's hat. Mary did not go out often, car rides upset her. One evening Vern took his son Bill to the airport in his classy and expensive car. On the way home he was involved in an accident and had to take a taxi. Not wanting to upset her he did not tell Mary. However in the paper the next morning was a photo of the damaged car.

Later still they all moved to West Pymble (1958).

One day Mary collapsed in front of the open fridge door. She was worried about the fridge defrosting and the cold air on her, but she could not move. When neighbours called the ambulance it was found she had two broken bones.

As she aged Margaret Hyndman went blind. Vern looked for a nursing home where she would be happy, but had trouble finding one where she would be able to get around. At last he found one at Burwood with only eight patients, all blind or partially sighted. Conditions were suited to them being able to walk around. She lived there till she was ninety-six. So that the doors to the veranda could be left open in summer Vern arranged for security doors to be put on all the rooms. He also learnt to make "kiss cakes" to take to her and to his grandson, Paul at boarding school. One day in 1962 Vern was going to golf but felt he should not go as Mary did not feel well. He sent for the nurse but Mary died of heart failure before the nurse arrived. She was ca 68 years old.

His sister Vi, who was a widow took Vern to Ballina for a change soon after. While there, they visited the widow of Mary's brother William who was living at Brisbane. Vern visited Vi when she was living at Pennant Hills at Viv's place, and Vi saw to it that the brothers got together after many years of no contact.

In 1967 aged 71, Vern married Joyce Champion whom he and Mary had known for many years, and who had been called when their only son Bill was hurt at school. After that his brothers and sisters saw more of him, and found him as exuberant and charming as ever. They moved to a unit at a Retirement Village at Killara. When Vi celebrated her eightieth birthday, Vern three years older got up with those celebrating May birthdays, although his was not until September, and danced merrily around enjoying an "unbirthday". He wore two hearing aids, but retained the twinkle in his eye and a keen mind. He appeared "diffident " and "distant" due to his deafness.

In March 1982 he and Joyce went for a walk and on his return, Vern sat down in his favourite chair and died quietly. Viola, the only sibling still alive, said "That is the way I would like to go". Joyce lived on alone until 1997 when she died.


As a boy William (Bill) lost the sight of one eye, but did not let this stop him from joining any activities he chose, including rifle-shooting with the "wrong" eye. He attended the King's School, and was an individualist, with inventive ideas, teaching himself to speak Maori and cataloguing the school's Aboriginal artefacts. Although he wanted to be a scientist he studied Medicine at Sydney University as there seemed to be little future in science at the time. His ambition then was to become a Flying Doctor, and he even had a number of flying lessons, but could not continue because of his eye injury. When he realised that he had set his heart on something impossible to him he was bitterly disappointed. While at Grafton Hospital doing his internship, he studied the languages of local Aboriginal tribes and wrote a book about them. By listening to German broadcasts during the second war he taught himself German. He and Barbara Cran whom he had met at university, married in 1944.

An ordinary practice in Australia did not interest him, as the average person did not need doctoring, but native languages and welfare fascinated him, so he decided instead to go to work in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea as a government doctor, where he travelled extensively. They lived in a native-built thatch house on Manus Island. Barbara drew and painted, and learned to keep house in New Guinea– she had to learn to bake her own bread using weevilly flour and a wood stove, and had to grow the yeast herself from the wild yeasts in coconut juice. Bill felt that the native inhabitants endured pain without fuss and only went to the doctor if necessary. Curious to find out if the natives who had given up cannibalism had better or worse health than the others he studied the subject. They went on a patrol up through the hills of Manus carrying out medical surveys. Barbara may have been the first European woman the natives had seen.

He and Barbara had two children, Anne and Paul. As Viv and Clytie were in PNG at the same time they sometimes baby-sat their grand-niece and nephew.

Bill bought a sailing boat to do patrols around the islands. Among his adventures was a sailing trip with a crew of two from New Guinea to Sydney on leave, in 1958, when he found his charts to be out-of-date as he had not checked with the authorities before leaving. A beacon was out-of-order and they were shipwrecked on Bouganville Reef. One of the crew members had had polio, the other got badly sunburnt, so Bill had to organise the removal of provisions to another larger wrecked vessel where they lived for two weeks before being rescued. Barbara and their parents did not know what had happened.

The family returned to PNG and later Bill was sent to a very isolated village to study a disease, which caused people to waste away unable to eat or swallow. While he was there he made a study of the language bringing back with him a man to help in the house. As a houseboy he was quite useless, but he enabled Bill to continue his study of the language.

A couple of years later whilst on leave in Australia, Bill bought another boat and the family lived onboard for several months in Pittwater, before sailing it back to New Guinea. As he had a fall and got concussion, he was persuaded to take an experienced man as crew.

The injury to his eye or his fall may have caused some other damage as Bill began to suffer blackouts and could not drive a car. Apparently he had a major blackout when undressing after a party and died suddenly in Samarai, New Guinea in 1961. Barbara and the children were in Sydney. The next morning his houseboy found him. As there was no facilities there, the post-mortem was held later in Port Moresby and the cause of death was not certain. His father was devastated at the loss of his only son. Mary collapsed and was taken to hospital.

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