‘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
‘Auntie Ede’ had also been a dancer, with an early photo of her in a Pierrot costume amongst family photos in an old trunk which found its way to her granddaughter in Yarrawonga. A beautiful young woman, Auntie Ede left the theatre to marry John Moore, a young Englishman keen to farm in Australia. They moved to Foster in Gippsland, establishing a farm and raising four daughters, Violet, Dot, and twins Ida and Ena, none of whom became dancers. Perhaps Edie told her daughters that working in the theatre was a very hard life, as my grandmother had told her daughters. I enjoyed visiting Aunt Ede in her 90’s when she was in care at Toora Hospital in 1971-2. Auntie Ede had my grandmother’s wide smile and reminded me of her. I was teaching at nearby Yarram High School - It was good to be able to report back to my grandmother about her much-loved sister when I returned to Melbourne.
I met my grandmother’s eldest brother, ‘Uncle Alf’, once or twice in Sydney. He lived in Chatswood near my aunt who took me to visit him when I was there on holidays. A kind and friendly man, Uncle Alf struggled with health issues throughout his life. Tall and thin, he may have had polio as a child as he always had a limp. ‘Later in life’ Uncle Alf married a woman our family barely spoke of, however my understanding from her relatives is that she loved him deeply and that he was treasured by her family. Auntie Ede’s family told me he corresponded with her and enjoyed visiting the Moore’s farm in Gippsland.
‘Uncle Charlie’, a rather dapper gentleman, didn’t make an impression on me, however I do remember his wife, another ‘Auntie Ada’. Auntie Ada was a talented dressmaker who had taught dressmaking at the Sydney Technical College. I have memories of seeing a dressmaker’s dummy and beautiful embroidered lingerie lying on a table at their house. Ruby, their only daughter, was much loved by my mother. ‘Kindred spirits’ of the same age, they shared many memories. I loved diverting to Cooma to take mum to visit Ruby when we were en route to Sydney. They would talk for hours, then walk hand in hand back to the car like little girls when it was time to leave.
‘Auntie Rube’, possibly my grandmothers’ favourite sister, like ‘Auntie Min’, a dancer and ballet mistress for J C Williamson, was still beautiful in her seventies when I met her in Sydney. Auntie Rube dearly loved my mother and her sister as children, spending time with them whenever possible and spoiling them with presents. Perhaps she could not have children? Ruby was with her loving ‘Studebaker’ car selling husband Alva Moses, possibly the first person from the United States I met. A dancer then dance mistress with J C Williamson, Auntie Rube and Uncle Alva lived in an apartment on the top floor of a blue stone building in ‘The Rocks’. We loved visiting there. My brother and I would spend as much time as we could in the beautiful wrought iron but rather clanky lift cage, going up and down as we pretended to be lift attendants. Like Auntie Min, and through astute investments, Auntie Rube was apparently among Sydney’s wealthiest women at some stage of her life.
Finally, my grandmother’s closest sister in age, ‘Auntie Vi’. Regarded as a Melbourne beauty, Auntie Vi danced but also had a beautiful contralto voice and spent some time with the Royal Comic Opera. On a concert tour of New Zealand, Violet met the love of her life, tall and handsome widower ‘Jack’ Carl. My mother described them as a very close and loving couple. Jack became the doorman at Her Majesty’s Theatre when he moved to Melbourne where their lives continued to be involved with the theatre. Jack’s sudden death in 1942 left Auntie Vi bereft and lonely. I remember visiting her little single fronted terrace house in a square near Rathdowne Street in Carlton. My grandmother would always check on Auntie Vi before children were invited in. We remember waiting on the porch outside and suspect now that, when we weren’t allowed in, Auntie Vi had been drinking. Auntie Vi and Jack Carl are still present in my life as I have her oval mirrored oak dressing table and Uncle Jack’s cedar chest in my bedrooms. I discovered during my family history journey that Uncle Jack had had a son in New Zealand and was able to send his tiny gold edged bible, signed by his mother in 1899, to his granddaughter Penny, who was thrilled to receive it.
There you have it! I have cherished memories and stories of Beatrice, Ada, Minnie, Edie, Alf, Charlie, Ruby and Violet Hooper. My grandmother Lily, along with my mother and aunt, clearly loved her brothers and sisters and wherever possible included them in our lives. I feel so lucky to have known and be able to write at least a little about each one of them.