When I was 10 my father died of a heart attack. Although it was a traumatic time I still had my mother, stayed in the same house and went to the same school. Life went on much as before.
For another 10 year old, the death of his father was to have far greater repercussions. The father was James Jones Curry, son of the Andrew Curry who came to Australia at the age of 17 eventually to become Mayor of Merewether.
Born in 1886 James became a master butcher by trade and in 1911 married Amy Grace King. They had five children. The eldest, Elaine was born in 1913, followed by Nita in 1915, Wallace in 1917, William in 1920 and Betty in 1925.
James appears in a group photograph for the Central Mission Football Club who were runners up in the 1907-08 Wednesday Competition. It was noted that this was the last year before Rugby League was introduced so it must have been Rugby Union. He is in the front row on the far left.
In 1912 James is looking very smart at the Butchers’ Picnic. He is the treasurer and is seated behind a bag of money in the front row.
Time passed by and now James is posing with the Sydney Male Voice Choir at La Perouse. It is 1925 and he has a butchers’ shop in Surry Hills. He is in the middle row leaning forward.
James would do unexpected things like hire a Cadillac for the day and drive the family across Sydney to Palm Beach.
His son Wally told of the day his dad was locked in the cold room along with the meat. He called for help but no-one heard him. How long he was in there is not recorded but he was traumatised afterwards and according to Wally, never the same again.
By 1927 they were back in Newcastle. James had a butchers’ shop in the Junction. On January 8 1928 James went missing. According to the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate of Monday, 9th January, 1928 a Mr Finch called to the family home on Sunday, searching for Mr Curry and was told he would be at the shop as he had left at 11.30 in the morning. Mr Finch went there about 5.45 pm but front and back doors were locked. He gave the back door a hard shove and it flew open. He could see nothing but a hat and a gabardine overcoat on a box. He went back to the Curry house feeling concerned and returned to the shop at 7 o’clock with two other men. They found the lifeless body of James at the back of the shop near the ice room, hanging by a piece of rope.
The family story is that the dinner Amy Grace had prepared for James was buried in the back garden of the house in Turnbull Street, Merewether where the family lived.
The Newcastle Sun (Tues 17 Jan 1928) reported that the brother of James, John Curry, a commercial traveller, told the court that his brother had to undergo an operation and also that business was bad. Another report from The Sun(Mon 9 Jan 1928) says:
Curry was said to have been in ill-health for some time, and had been advised to undergo a major operation.
There does not appear to have been an autopsy or a doctor’s report on his state of health so we will never know what caused him to take the drastic steps which left a widow and five young children. What happened next is also hard to understand from a mother’s point of view but if the financial situation was as bad as James had said maybe it was the only solution.
Andrew Curry was a respected elder in the Masonic Lodge. James was also a Mason so when Wally and his bother Bill were offered positions at the William Thompson Masonic School in Sydney, Amy Grace must have felt this was a way for her sons to get an education and also reduce the household expenses.
According to “Find and Connect”:
The William Thompson Masonic School was the brainchild of William Thompson who was the Liberal Party member for Ryde from 1913-20, and Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons from 1914-24.
Thompson’s aim was to establish cottage homes for orphans. Land was purchased at Baulkham Hills in 1921 and the first stage of what was originally known as The Masonic Orphan Schools was opened on 11 November 1922. In recognition of Thompson’s leadership and service to the project, the school was later renamed William Thompson Masonic Schools.
Wally recalled setting off for Sydney on the steam train with his little brother, Billy at his side. He had nothing bad to say about the school and often talked of his experiences, but the boys found it hard to be separated from the rest of the family after losing their father.
They both left school as soon as they could and tried many jobs before they found their niche in life. Billy went off the World War 2 and returned, eventually becoming an ambulance driver. Wally became Manager of Bradford Insulation in Wollongong. Always a staunch Freemason, Wally spent much of his life raising funds for disadvantaged children and was an Old Boy of the William Thompson School.