Gordon Louis Smythe (Beau)

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Gordon, born at Jerilderie was the blue-eyed, fair-haired, artistic youngest son. He attended Jerilderie, Gladesville and Sandringham schools. At the age of twelve he had rheumatic fever, which left him with a weak heart. After his father died he left school and went to work at various places including his brother Viv's farm at Erigolia. He worked as a salesman and various other jobs. When he was about seventeen, his sister-in-law, Clytie bought a T model Ford. He took delivery in Sydney and drove it to Erigolia. Later he drove it as much as Viv. He also worked for his brother-in-law, Bill, in his store and was very popular with the customers and at one time ran a machinery shop in Erigolia. These were Depression years.

Many of the girls at Erigolia were smitten with him as he was good looking and had a very pleasant personality, and he acquired the nickname of Beau. In 1932 he married Margaret Ellen (Nellie) Potter, a very pretty girl whom he had known since childhood as she and her family lived around the corner at Ramsgate. She had been housekeeper for her father and brothers after her mother died, and had done dressmaking for pin-money. Her family did not attend the wedding. Nell had been particularly fond of Hazel as a little girl, had encouraged Margaret as a ten-year-old to stop sucking her thumb and introduced LM Montgomery to her older nieces.

Having come from an all male household, she would have loved to have a daughter to dress up in pretty clothes, to share confidences, to teach lady-like behaviour and the arts of homemaking. During the first pregnancy she returned to Ramsgate for the confinement. Her waters broke but she did not realise the significance. Some days later she went to Nurse Armstong where she endured a long and difficult labour, luckily having “a skinny little rabbit”, a boy they named Robert. When he was still too young to be toilet-trained, he played in the yard clad only in a shirt to protect from sunburn and no trousers to save work. Beau sang the silly song

"Dobble Dobble Dobble with his little pick and shovel
Digging tatties in the garden with his tail tucked in.”

The next year when Nell was close to having her second baby, her future sister-in-law came to Rankins Springs to help. She dressed Bob in only a hat and shoes and gave him a cabbage leaf to hold in front of him if a stranger arrived. The ants were bad so she kept some water in the bath and if she heard him scream, rushed out and raced him to the bath to get the ants off. On one occasion Bob went missing. Panic and a search ensued without telling Nell. Bob had made it across the road to the doctor’s house and the doctor was quite taken by the hat-shoes-cabbage leaf attire.

They had a second son, Ronald. They were always called Bob and Ron or “Dobble and Bootlace” by Beau.

Uncle Beau was everybody’s favourite uncle and had humorous names for his nieces and nephews such as "tin ribs" for Betty, "spider legs" for Hazel, “Greta Garbo” for Margaret because of her hair and he drew caricatures of them. He and Nell lived at Erigolia for a while, later rented a comfortable fully timber-lined house at Rankins Springs. Beau had trouble getting work because of his heart condition from rheumatic fever and was not robust enough for heavy work, although he liked to play tennis and football, and was scrum half for the Erigolia League Team. All the children regarded him as an expert at all sport. He had tried to get insurance but was refused on health grounds. His son Bob remembers him outside the house digging drains in the rain, making channels away from the house. Beau got a seasonal job at the wheat stack at Erigolia which involved carrying heavy bags of wheat and later after the silos were built as the manager. On one occasion he took Nancy to the top of the silos in a hand operated “lift” which exhausted him. She was keen for another ride up but he was compelled to decline. He drove Clytie's car to work and later bought an “Indian” motorbike and sidecar. They lived in a red-roofed house just west of Erigolia.

When his mother died suddenly in 1936, Beau was particularly shocked and distraught, and sat alone in the corridor of the train during the journey. His usual cheerful whistle was silent.

A little later he, Nell and the little boys came back to Ramsgate to stay with the Potters. Beau who was out-of-work in the Depression was most upset at disparaging remarks made by his father-in-law and although it was winter Beau went to Cowra ahead of Nell and the boys, to take a job managing a radio shop. Before leaving Sydney he visited Perce and Dorrie and Betty remembers his lovely pearl grey hat which looked stylish on him. Perce was worried and Betty had a premonition about him. After a couple of weeks he sent for Nell and the boys. He became ill, but could not take time off work. Flu turned to double pneumonia and pleurisy. Nell called the doctor who sent him straight to Moira private hospital, Cowra. He was still cracking jokes as he was being carried in on a stretcher. Bob, who was four, remembers taking oranges to the hospital to see his father. There were no sulfa drugs at that time and heart operations were undreamed of. Viv got the wrong information and did not get to the hospital in time. When they arrived they were shocked to learn that he had died.

It was early September 1938. Nell's brother came and took the boys back to Ramsgate, wrapping his own warm coat around two-year-old Ron at the notoriously cold Blayney station. Beau's brothers Perce and Vern went to Cowra and gave the information for the death certificate. The certificate said he died of heart failure, double pneumonia, pleurisy and infection. He had had a very bad rheumatic heart since the age of twelve. The Smythes said later they would have helped financially if Beau and Nell had asked.

Nell was left with little boys aged two and four and would never have the daughter she longed for. She had had no training except at housework and sewing. After six years away she resumed housekeeping for her father, two brothers and now two sons. Her father was a heavy-set man, intolerant of the noise of the little boys.

The widow’s pension was very meagre but they had a thriving vegetable garden and many hens and eggs. Bob learnt to kill non-laying chooks at an early age and recalls his mother expressing unaccustomed swear words when a laying chook was accidentally slaughtered.

When Bill Glasgow was in Sydney he made a point of taking Nell and the boys for a drive in his car as a rare treat for them. He skimmed stones across the water on one outing, which inspired Bob to learn the art and skim stones at every opportunity.

During WW2 Nell was in the NES (National Emergency Service) and was proud to wear the uniform.

The boys were fast learners, and were encouraged to excel in order to get bursaries, and be very stoical. After winning his bursary, Bob was very pleasantly surprised by a letter from Uncle Viv (then in Rabaul) with a ten pound postal note. They lived around the corner from KY. When the teenage boys discovered some of their father's sketches, including nudes which he had done for a correspondence course with Antonio Datto-Rubbo, (an Italian-born artist and teacher in Sydney) Nell destroyed them, and also disposed of an art book by Norman Lindsay.

Her widow’s pension lasted only until Ron was sixteen. Her brother-in-law Perce, gave her a secretarial-type job in his coaching college, and she could have some independence. Later Nell also gave Dorothy a home for a year (1956).

After the boys married in 1960, Nell and her brother moved to Rocky Point Rd. She never had any other attachment but travelled with her sister within Australia and overseas. Nell lived alone for many years after that until she had to be put into a nursing home for many more years until she died in 1991.


Robert (Bob) went to an “Opportunity C” Class then Canterbury Boys High School. His results at the Intermediate Certificate were good. In the two years to the Leaving Certificate he lost the plot, could not see the benefit of study and resisted, so got a moderate pass. He was awarded a Queen’s Scout certificate. Bob says “Of my years up to twenty-five, the less said the better.” He does however give credit to many good things that helped him – the sizeable yard at Ramsgate, with room to practice cricket; swimming at Ramsgate baths; visits from Bill Glasgow and Charlie Johnston; Nell’s loving care and steadfast hope, cheerful acceptance of work, her exemplary brave face… the list is long.

In 1959 while working as a builder’s labourer he commenced a part-time course in surveying. During the year first Maths, then Physics, then Descriptive Geometry became clear. Nine years after the Leaving Certificate he astounded lecturers, family and himself with a result of 5 Distinctions and a Credit pass. Finding he needed treatment for sun-damaged skin he changed to Civil Engineering and graduated with First Class Honours and a University Medal.

He married Faye Williams and had three children, Vivienne, David and Yvonne. He became an engineer for the Department of Main Roads, (later RTA), and lived at Newcastle, Deniliquin and Goulburn, later retired to a home he had built at Glenbrook. He enjoyed squash into his 60’s and still enjoys bushwalking (after retiring he did the Overland Track in Tasmania), rifle shooting, skimming stones, taught himself to play the accordion and recorder flute as a form of relaxation, and to enjoy life.

Bob and Fay's children, Vivienne and David, spent their early childhood at Glenbrook. They were capable movers through bush and over rock, and good swimmers. Yvonne was born just before the family moved to Newcastle and also learned to bushwalk at an early age.


Ron, the youngest of Annie’s grandsons, has long up-turned eyelashes and a special sense of humour like his father. The eyelashes disappeared with the onset of hair loss (common in this family) but the sense of humour stayed. As a toddler he had his legs in plaster to correct “knock knees” which was probably ‘ricketts’, a legacy of poor diet during the major drought of that era. As a boy he lived in a home where children were non-entities, yet were expected to achieve wonders in later life. He was sent to school looking immaculate, but untidied himself as soon as he was around the corner. His mother's brother Norm, taught him cabinet making and building, which has greatly influenced his adult life. He went to university under pressure to achieve, and after graduating as a Civil Engineer and working for a while, he gave up his profession to work as an oyster farmer and builder with Norm. Later, he returned to engineering and had a long and successful career in road and bridge construction.

Ron’s marriage to Judith Campbell resulted in the birth of Phillip, Katrina and James, but did not last. He later married Cynthia Nash and became a father to her children Corinne, Scott and Guy. He returned to his hobby of woodworking and did courses in violin making, woodcarving and woodturning to supplement his earlier training in cabinet making. He also found time to do a lot of bushwalking and become a handy squash player.

Since retirement from his position as chief engineer of RTA in Grafton, Ron has been able to concentrate on all aspects of wood craftsmanship, which was what he had always wanted to do. On the cultural side he plays bagpipes with the Grafton Pipe Band and sings with the local barbershop group.

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