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What's Your Psychological Heritage?

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Inspired by the efforts of my forebears in starting new lives in Australia, when they were born far - far - away, I got to thinking about what they have passed on to me.

Do you know what your psychological heritage is?

You see, when a person suffers trauma, they are likely to become anxious and prone to bouts of depression. They then can pass on their doubts and fears to their children; and a stream, of intergenerational mental health issues, is born. Hypervigilance and paranoia are powerful energies!

But, that same person who suffers trauma might also rise above the challenges they face, and in so doing, they transcend the trauma. They bring courage, determination and love into existence.

Those are powerful energies too!!

I've been researching my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents this past month, because they lived through harsh times and experienced difficult conditions. That makes for a great story (or more)!

Colour photo of Hanlon Family, circa 1964
Cecily (my aunty Ces), Len (Dad), John III (Jack, Graffy), John IV (my uncle Jack), and Gertie (Grandma)

Hence, I have strived to find the answers in history, to the vexatious questions of mystery. I have kept at it each day, rewarded only with the smallest morsels of hope, that could turn out to be nebulous cobwebs in the gossamer veil of illusion. I could be imagining that I'm right, when I'm wrong! Or vice versa ....

But there is one thing that rings true: My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had the opportunity to show me how to live, and I (every day of my life) have the chance to choose which of their attributes to bring to any situation. Faced with tough conditions, I could crumble or I could look for like-minded souls to help me charge forward; and that's what I mean when I used the phrase, "psychological heritage".

So, what is my psychological heritage?

Well, I know that I have forebears who came to Australia in 1857 with a small baby. That small baby's mother (Mary Ann) died in a gale on the voyage, and was "buried" at sea. So, I imagine John I had immense fortitude. He would have been grieving his young wife (they had married the year before, showing love and commitment). It's heart-breaking stuff!

Who knows how that baby was cared for on the voyage, and beyond? There's mention in Trove about him being looked after by the women on the ship, but it's hard enough to imagine changing a baby's nappy, washing it and drying it for re-use, let alone keeping Baby fed. But letting the women help, well that took trust.

John I brought John II (the baby) to Raymond Terrace, where his Aunty Margaret had just lost her husband. Together, those two widowed souls managed the Junction Inn Hotel. So, John I, together with his sister, Margaret Holdstock, managed the pub. They got themselves out of bed each day, and kept putting one foot in front of the other (oh, I can hear my mother saying that!!). It took perseverance! There was another pub across the road, called the Clare Castle, and so they would have either worked in competition or collaboration with the licensee of that pub .....

About seven years after Mary Ann died, John I married a girl he met in Raymond Terrace (Honora Donahue), whose father had the Clare Castle; and John and Honora went on to have six more children. They showed (by having babies), that they had hope (and possibly passion!). The Clare Castle became known as Hanlon's Hotel. That took good relationship-building.

I get very confused with all the John Hanlons of my family. There were five, and they were all great with horses. John I (the publican) got a horse from bushranger Ben Hall. For a while there, we thought that he also transcribed Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter, but that could be some other John Hanlon! John I was a mayor of Raymond Terrace Council as well as a publican. He earned respect.

John II (John Austin Hanlon Snr) was a drover and stock dealer (so he was independent and entrepreneurial), and married Mary Francis (whose parents were Newcastle pioneers, and she would have to have kept faith, and be self-confident to let her husband and son go away on long trips). Pioneers are brave and resourceful. John II helped John III (John Austin Jnr, my grandfather) onto his first pony. When I read this little morsel in Trove, I was so touched by Graffy's memory of being a small boy lifted up onto a pony by his Dad. We often forget that our parents (and those older) were once small toddlers learning from their own parents. That image reflects responsibility as well as gentleness.

John III, my grandfather, was a drover and stock agent like his father, which meant that they travelled all over New South Wales and Queensland (there's a lonely life, on the one hand; and a great life of freedom and independence on the other!). They would have needed good memories for all the routes and farmers and stock. But, unfortunately, the Federation Drought probably hit hard, as would the Spanish Flu.

Two years after marrying my Grandma, Graffy filed for voluntary bankruptcy. As much as this would have been a terribly hard decision, it took courage. Both he and his father had developed great relationships with farmers and pastoralists. It's relationships that not only endure; they provide the cushion to help you land just that little bit more softly. Without those relationships, it's so much harder to lift yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again. But that's what Graffy did. He kept trying, in the face of mounting obstacles. Yep, determination, and self-discipline. Oh, and self-motivation!

And, knowing what it is to put your own needs and self-interest aside for someone you love when they're facing these kinds of challenges, I know that my Grandma would have done whatever she could to keep Graffy strong. She believed in him, and in them!

The weird thing about all this contemplation, is that I haven't been thinking about my grandfather's side of the story at all!

I've actually been researching my paternal grandmother's story (Grandma's), because her parents came from Lithuania and maybe Poland. We think they were escaping the pogroms rife in the Russian Empire at the time. It's possible that they just discovered opportunity opening up in Australia (just when things were pretty bad back home), and they grabbed that opportunity.

So, Grandma's parents were a young couple, starting to have babies when the May Laws were enacted (which gave rise to a lot of the Anti-Semitic aggression in the Russian Empire). They packed up babies 1 and 2, and Grandma was born en route to England (in Warszawa, Poland). They didn't stay in Warszawa long, because we have stories of them being in Manchester soon after (like a month, soon after).

Can you imagine hot-footing it from one country to another, with each country's language sounding more and more strange? The customs are different, and so is the food. Even the calendars are different! You see, Grandma's parents would have spoken Yiddish, and they would have used a Hebrew calendar to record their important dates. That is, if they weren't speaking Polish or Russian and using the Julian calendar of the Russian Empire (which was not quite THE Julian calendar!). Once they arrived in England, they'd have to cope with the Gregorian calendar.

It was frustrating enough for me to try finding their names and dates in JewishGen. But, then I tried imagining what it was like for them, having to explain these things without a calendar converter on a mobile/cell phone! Yes, I'm feeling a lot of patience (amid the frustration).

Grandma's original family name, Novozhenets, would have been hard for British immigration clerks to hear and then spell. Grandma's parents (who arrived in England unable to speak English) would not have been able to spell their name every time a form needed filling. So, when my great-grandfather came to Australia, he changed his name to Sussman. And two years later, when his wife brought their three little girls across the seas, they took that new name too. And that shows adaptability and open-mindedness.

They had seven more children, on their farm just outside Taree, before coming to Newcastle and starting a new life running the Waratah Hotel. Like my father's paternal forebears, his maternal forebears showed a great deal of resilience. That word has been bandied about a lot over recent years, but you tell me what it takes to recover from the loss of a child (my Grandma's little brother died in a cart accident when he was just nine). Two years later, Grandma's father died, and my Grandma ran that hotel for eight years. She was "marriageable age" at the time, and instead of a matchmaker finding her a suitable Jewish husband, she had met my Graffy, a Catholic!

My cousin has recently sent me two folders of postcards that Grandma collected while she ran the pub. I can see a wanderlust in her, great friendships (both with family members and her chums), and a forbearance.

And as I read the postcards from my Graffy, I can feel his heart connected to hers from every distance! Romance! Love!

Grandma and Graffy lost one of their four children, little Marie, in infancy. A big photo of her hung in their home. And that devotion resonates too ...

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