For Parents Who Think They Know Best for their Children: We Don't, says Griselda Heppel

Photo by Trinity Kubassek:

Here's a tip. If you’re an anxious/ambitious parent, determined your child will pursue a safe and respectable profession, despite said child’s reluctance, lay off. 

Otherwise he may run off to Australia to work on a sheep station and you never see him again. 

Like fellow AE blogger Mari Howard, I’ve been delving into some family history lately and can confirm that this really happened. A doctor in County Carlow, Ireland, my great-great-grandfather, William Fryer, had his 25 year-old son, Charlie, all set to take up medicine as well. For reasons lost in the mists of time, poor Charlie felt the only way to escape this hideous fate was to fly to the ends of the earth, which he did in 1879. Just as telling, from a family dynamics’ point of view, was Charlie’s refusal to follow up any of the introductions his frantic parents gave him – once they’d tracked him down – to contacts in Australia who could help him. A complete break with his old life was what he wanted.

Houses in Quay Street, Rockhampton, Queensland in 1880s. 
By Lundager, J. H. (Jens Hansen), 1853-1930 - Item is held by
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Public Domain,

Charlie married a woman called Rosina Richards, settled down in Rockhampton, Queensland, and had one daughter and six sons. He never saw his family back in Ireland again and barely wrote to them; but – and this is what intrigues me about his story, even more than his original bolt from home – that doesn’t mean all contact was lost. Far from it. 

William Thomas Fryer 
(photo from John Denis Fryer Collection,
University of Queensland)

Because his wife, Rosina, who had never met her in-laws and never would, developed a warm correspondence with Charlie’s parents, his siblings and his cousins, fielding countless letters begging for news and photographs. For whatever reason – and my guess is that he simply couldn’t face any contact with the parents he felt he’d so disappointed – Charlie left all that to his wife and, in time, his growing family. 

And this is where the story takes on a Saving Private Ryan element: with the advent of World War 1, no fewer than four Fryer sons – Will, Charles, Henry and John (‘Jack’) – volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force to fight on the Allies’ side, with a fifth, Dick, only prevented by the war ending while he was literally on his way to Europe.

Charles George Fryer 
(photo from John Denis Fryer Collection,
University of Queensland)

Will was wounded, which probably saved his life as he was unable to return to the front; Henry was also wounded, while Charles was killed, and Jack – an academic high flyer who'd won a scholarship to the University of Queensland in Brisbane – tragically died of TB (likely to have been exacerbated by his being gassed in the trenches) in 1923, as he was studying for his arts degree.

Henry Hardy Fryer 
(photo from John Denis Fryer Collection,
University of Queensland)

His loss was felt so deeply that in 1926, the University of Queensland's Students' Dramatic Society, of which he’d been Vice-President, gave a small donation to establish a library in his name.
Thus the Fryer Memorial Library of Australian literature was born, growing into a valuable cultural resource today.  

John Denis 'Jack' Fryer 
(photo from John Denis Fryer Collection,
University of Queensland)

Charlie Fryer, 70, with 
grand-daughter, Eunice, 3, in 1924
I love this story, not just because of the incredible bravery and selflessness shown by all those fine young men, but because of the lesson – and comfort – it should give all parents who feel they know what’s best for their children. We don’t. Charlie Fryer set out to make a new life for himself, utterly at odds with what his father wanted; and look what a brilliant success he made of it. Not in material terms, perhaps, but in the far richer ones of self-reliance, hard work and creating a strong, loving family, willing to do their bit when the moment came.

I only hope he felt that himself eventually, and knew how proud his family back in Ireland was of him, his wife and children, as the collection of letters in the Fryer Memorial Library reveals.
The Fall of a Sparrow by Griselda Heppel
BRONZE WINNER in the Wishing Shelf Awards 2021 
By the author of Ante's Inferno  
WINNER of the People's Book Prize


Peter Leyland said…
What a fascinating story Griselda. It's just amazing what you can find out about your family when you go in and investigate as you've done here. The photos and the research you've done create an engrossing account of past generations and you seem to have found a proud kinship with them and what they achieved despite all the odds.

My grandfather, a Liverpool butcher, was gassed in that war but survived. One day...
Umberto Tosi said…
Fabulous family tale rings bells to this writer who by circumstance lives half a continent away from his grown children and theirs. By coincidence, by post this month touches on the challenges of keeping up relationships with one's far-flung children
Griselda Heppel said…
Thank you both. Family histories can be riveting (chiefly for the family members!) but what struck me so much was the poignancy of this story. The fact that poor Charlie didn't feel he could go against his father's wishes except by escaping as far away as possible, and how distraught his family must have been at this unlooked for reaction. And in those days if people emigrated to distant continents, you were very unlikely ever to see them again. Umberto, I feel for you, having your children so far away. Travel is easier now, and there's Facetime etc but given work/school commitments, there will be long periods when you don't see them, in which grandchildren grow fast! So far my children are all within relatively easy distance but who knows where they may end up?

Peter, I want to hear about your grandfather. That generation went through so much.
Just read this - how true and how sensible! We really don't know who they are the way they know themselves...our younger son looked totally set for a scientific career, possibly engineering, but suddenly turned around, tried art college, dropped out of it, and self-taught began to work in computers. So far various other developments and a small company... evidently an innovator... who knew? As a twin, he was overshadowed through childhood by the very large personality of a sister! Rather similar to an ambitious parent...

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