‘Aunty Beat’, born in 1873, was already over 80 with arthritis and mobility problems, and possibly slowly dying, when I first met her in the 1950’s. I remember being frightened of going into her darkened bungalow bedroom at my aunt’s dairy farm near Dandenong when on holiday there. A woman of rounded curves who had never married, my memories of her have softened as I’ve aged. I feel sad that I was frightened of her and do hope that seeing me and my cousin peeping around her door as she lay in bed had given her pleasure rather than pain. Auntie Beat had cared for her parents as they aged, then rotated amongst family members when she needed care in later life. Reputed to have been a beauty when young, Auntie Beat apparently had a suitor who wanted to marry her, but Grandpa Hooper had forbidden this.
‘Aunty Ada’, next in line, was petite and finely boned like my mother, very approachable and loving. I have warm memories of visiting her and her interested, well-educated husband, Uncle Wal Kemp, in Dandenong as a child. Mum told wonderful stories of going on hayrides to country dances with her cousins May and Les when visiting the Kemps’ farm in Cranbourne during her youth.
A chance discovery concerning Auntie Beat and Auntie Ada during a family history quest some years ago caused family consternation. The death certificate of my great grandfather listed Auntie Beat and Auntie Ada as the daughters of George and Janet ‘Jessie’ Wipers, not Emma Hooper. A marriage certificate was registered for George and Janet ‘Jessie’ Wipers. Jessie was also the mother of a boy George and a baby girl who died shortly after birth. My preferred hypothesis is that Jessie, who had four children in a short time, one a toddler who died, became unwell, perhaps with Post Natal Depression, moving to Sydney to live where her parents lived, taking young George with her. I found records confirming that both Jessie and George died in Sydney many years later. Perhaps George Charles Beech Hooper wasn’t free to marry my great grandmother, Emma Jane Taylor?
How did great grandfather George meet Emma? We know he was a clerk at the Melbourne Steamship Company which was owned by Emma Jane’s widowed sister in law’s husband, Captain James Dean. Perhaps Emma Jane had been employed as a governess for little Beatrice and Ada? Perhaps Emma Jane was ‘in the picture’ before Jessie relocated to Sydney? We will never know.
Whether legally married or not, my Hooper grandparents, George and Emma, are remembered as a loving couple. Beatrice and Ada were raised as their children and all siblings remained close. George and Emma went on to have seven children together who interestingly all worked with J C Williamson’s Theatre Company in some capacity, the girls as dancers and choreographers, the boys in stage management, book-keeping roles.
Born to Emma Jane in 1876, ‘Auntie Min’ was a formidable woman who achieved acclaim and some notoriety as a ballerina/actress, then as ballet mistress and choreographer for J C Williamson. Music scores and programs from the ballets Auntie Min had choreographed were kept amongst theatre memorabilia at my grandparents’ house; hearing about them was a magical part of my childhood. The family was particularly proud that Auntie Min ‘had taught Robert Helpmann to dance!’ Clearly a woman of spirit, Auntie Min had taken J C Williamson’s to court when they refused to pay her for two weeks when the theatre was closed during the Spanish influenza epidemic. Although Auntie Min received recognition and accumulated