The Grandfather I Never Met

Ever since I was a young girl (aahh), I have always been fascinated with my maternal grandfather. Unfortunately I never had the privilege of meeting him as he passed away three years before I was born but his memory has always lived on in our family. My grandfather, James Lawler (who was mainly known as Jim), was born in Liverpool, England on 17 October 1903 to John Lawler and Elizabeth Callaghan.   I think part of the fascination for me was the fact he came from a different country, on the other side of the world and as a child growing up in a small country town in Australia, it seemed surreal. But I think it was a combination of the story of how he arrived in Australia and the pure fact I never got to meet him that really resonated with me the most.  In 1920, when he was 17 years of age, Jim and his brother Edward were stowaways on a ship that left from Liverpool enroute to Australia. The story that has been told through the family was that they both were caught hiding on the ship but the man that found them hid them for a little while.  Jim was extremely seasick and the man that found them helped him with this.

They eventually arrived in Melbourne and both were working odd jobs. After a period of time, Edward eventually went back to Liverpool. Apparently, Edward was knocking on Jim’s door the morning they were due to leave for Liverpool but Jim was asleep and did not hear him so Edward left without him. This would forever alter his life because Jim never returned to Liverpool and therefore never saw his parents or some of his siblings ever again. He would not see Edward again for 46 years.

According to some letters that were written to him from his parents and siblings in his early days in Australia, he had no intention of settling in Australia and it is believed he and his brother came out because they thought they were going to find riches and then they would return to Liverpool.  After all, Australia was claimed as the “land of opportunity”.  However Jim had some difficulty finding work in the beginning and had a hard time adjusting.  That was until he met my grandmother Annie Pearce.  Annie, who was originally from Carrajung Lower, Victoria, was working in Melbourne for a year as a maid.  She then returned to the family farm in Carrajung Lower during the depression to be with her father who was having a hard time with cattle dying and a lack of feed on the property.  While working on a farm for Bob Chilvers, Annie and Jim met at a dance at Carrajung Lower.

Getting his haircut but his father-in-law

Getting his haircut by his father-in-law

12 months after they met, Annie and Jim married on 12 July 1930 at St James Anglican Church in Traralgon and they went to live with Annie’s father for a few months until they moved into the Post Office at Carrajung Lower where Annie was managing.

After having five children, Jim enlisted into the Australian army on 3 April 1940 and went into camp on 18 April.  He embarked and sailed on 1 October 1940  – 4th Operating seat A.I.F abroad 6th Division Signals.  Jim served in Jerusalem and the Middle East and after four years he returned to Australia.  He was then sent to Queensland to return overseas but he became ill and was hospitalised before returning home.  He was discharged from the army on 3 April 1944 – four years to the day after his enlistment.

During the war, my grandmother was still managing the post office and had the unpleasant task of informing mothers and fathers that their sons were killed or missing in action.

My grandparents on their wedding day

My grandparents on their wedding day

James Lawler just before he was sent to war

James Lawler just before he was sent to war

It was also during this time that Annie gave birth to another child while Jim was serving in the war. He did not see his newly born child until she was 18 months old.

Upon his return from the war, they had another three children. The youngest child was my mother Judith.  Jim also purchased a school bus run and transported children to schools between Yarram and Carrajung through to Won Wron and Devon.  In 1960, he sold the business to his eldest son John and today John’s son Andrew and his wife own the bus company called Lawler’s Bus Lines.

The family continued life on the farm in Carrajung Lower until 1963 they moved to the township of Yarram. Jim was working night shift at the Traralgon Hospital and then worked at the Yarram Butter Factory. He also owned a piggery in Yarram.

Working on the farm with his sons

Working on the farm with his sons

But Liverpool would always remain with Jim as he was a Catholic and a passionate Liverpool football supporter.  He longed for Liverpool and it was told that he would often visit the coastal town of Port Albert, gazing out at the ocean because it reminded him of the docks at Liverpool.

Mary and Lily are to the right with my grandparents. That is my mum as a child

Mary and Lily are to the left with my grandparents. That is my mum as a child

Fortunately some of Liverpool came to visit with the arrival of his two sisters Lily and Mary in the 1950’s.  They stayed for six weeks and my grandmother, with her ever-present gentle nature that we all adored, went out of her way to make them feel at home.  I think Mary and Lily were quite shocked when they came to visit.  Here were these two ladies who came from Liverpool, a very busy metropolitan city on the other side of the world, to a little country town in the bush with not even a milk-bar, which back in those days, was a five hour journey from Melbourne.  They were bewildered as to how their brother Jim could have settled so far away.   One of my aunties recalls a funny tale in which they were asked to go for a walk.  Mary and Lily got all dressed up and put their heels on only to discover the “walk” was to the end of the long driveway to fetch the milk and eggs.  The Australian way of life did not impress Mary and Lily.

Apart from another sister Martha who came to visit in the 1970’s and a few other English relatives, my grandfather never saw the rest of his family again.  He was one of seven siblings – five sisters; Martha, Mary, Mabel, Lizzie and Lily and one brother Edward.  But he did remain in touch with all of his family back home in Liverpool via the written letter.

He was reunited with his brother Edward 46 years later but Edward later settled in New Zealand where some of his children had already immigrated.

Granddad in his bowls uniform

Granddad in his bowls uniform in front of his house in Yarram

The Lawler family in Australia today consists of 9 children (they did have 10 children but 9 survived), 37 grandchildren (although 2 have since passed away), 57 great grandchildren (plus numerous step-children) and 2 great, great grandchildren.  For someone who told his mother in a letter that he would not marry an Australian girl, he created a legacy that will live on for generations to come.

James Lawler passed away at the age of 70 from cancer on 27 November 1973; six months after my parents were married. He is buried at the cemetery in Yarram, Victoria along with his wife Annie.  Our family have been truly blessed.

Some of the Lawler family today

Some of the Lawler family today - March 2009


~ by Shae on September 22, 2009.

4 Responses to “The Grandfather I Never Met”

  1. Hi Shae,this is great well wrtiiten – how long before you publish? Fran xx

  2. I really liked this Shae. So glad you made an effort to record Jim’s story. Makes me even more glad to be your friend XXOO

  3. […] in fact, my favourite city after Melbourne and New York.  My loyal readers will recall I wrote a story about the grandfather whom I never met who was born and bred in Liverpool but then stowed away to Australia in 1920. Well yes I am probably […]

  4. […] am very interested in my family history and tree, and in particular my maternal grandfather, whereas a lot of my cousins couldn’t care […]

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