Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Snapshots of an adventurer: Alexander William de Friez

This week's prompt for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is "favourite photo".  Now, I don't think I can say these photographs of my grandfather, Alexander William de FRIEZ, are my favourites, but they are very special to me.

Alexander William de Friez c. 1930
Original held by author
The earlier one shows a young man at early adulthood - calm, contained, with a hint of mischief about his carefully-controlled smile, as though he must contain his energy for the duration of the photographic episode.

He certainly had huge energy!  Alex was born in Bristol in 1907, the second son in a family that would contain 2 boys and 2 girls.  His father, Charles de FRIEZ, was a master mariner, employed by the Port of Bristol Authority as a ship's pilot in the notorious seas of the Bristol Channel.

Alex grew up among a sea-faring community, but his first sea voyage would take him, in 1925 at the age of 18, half-way around the world to Melbourne, Australia, as a "younger brother" in the "Big Brother" initiative, one of the many schemes that evolved after World War 1 to bring young men to Australia to ease housing and food shortages and unemployment in Britain and to rebuild a depleted workforce in Australia.  Alex completed his contracted 4 years of labour in the program in 1929 just as the Great Depression began to be felt in Australia.

Just a year later, in 1930, Alex was living in Mackay in Queensland and working as a labourer.

By 1936, he was in Bundaberg, receiving am aircraft pilot's licence from the Northern Rivers Flying Club, and working at the Bingera Sugar Plantation.  It was here he met Kathleen McDonald, the daughter of the Plantation's carpenter, and they married in 1937.

Alex and Kathleen together had many adventures in life including dairy farming, raising a daughter and adopting a son, free-masonry, surviving Darwin's Cyclone Tracy, building homes for local people on Thursday Island, singing and performing, world travel, and more!  These adventures will form the content of many more blog posts, I'm sure!

Alexander William de Friez, c. 1975
Original held by author
For now, let's fast-forward to retirement.  In this second photo, taken around 1975, Alex is older, more relaxed, with a weathered face showing evidence of his adventures.  He still has that hint of mischief about him, and I remember how his blue eyes seemed to sparkle with life and curiosity and fun.

Sadly, for a man with so much zest for life, Alex began to experience dementia in the mid-1980's until his death in 1992.

Because of his travels and his many and varied interests, and my own entry into adulthood, I didn't spend enough time with him and - like many family historians, I'm sure! - I now wish that I had carved out more time to listen to his stories and to enjoy his humour and wisdom.


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