The Further Adventures of Ern McQuillan OAM

We continue the Ern story as promised.

Imagine you were the one wanting to be a press photographer in the early 1940s.

This seems a good place to resume the story.

You see, the Second World War had started for us school kids when Ern made his debut in the press photographer business…

Enemies were everywhere! For wider experience I recommend this site: http://www.pinterest.com/lordchelsea/propaganda/
Enemies were everywhere! For wider experience I recommend this site: http://www.pinterest.com/lordchelsea/propaganda/ .

In the Thirties, Forties and Fifties Newtown was so different from the rejuvenated, expensive, rising class suburb of today.  Back streets were back streets then, yards were small, King Street’s trams rattled determinedly on through pedestrians and other traffic, and paperboys, swinging like Tarzans from the running boards, sold you for but a penny or two, tomorrow’s fish and chips wrappings.  This is where the journey we are tracing, began.

Transport for the poor and the poor planet.
Normal and cheap transport for the poor!

Let’s start close to the beginning. Remember the time: c. 1942 amidst World War II.

What a moment in history to start a newspaper career!

Talk to us surviving people from that time.  You will find memories still vivid.  We might mention the blackouts – no neon lights in the city, only shadows and uncertainties.  Things you had taken for granted suddenly became very scarce. 

The Probe of the Threatening Dark.
The Probe of the Threatening Dark.

Petrol became a major problem. 1940 was an election year.  The Government dithered and delayed with petrol rationing, afraid of losing votes.  The motor industry also fought hard against petrol rationing for obvious reasons. Petrol licenses were eventually given to more than a million people.  Two thousand miles per year were considered a fair maximum allowance.  It was later doubled for votes.

War Really Worked Then To Save Petrol.
War Eventually Had Some Success With Efforts To Save Petrol. The Charcoal Burner Invention.

Petrol rationing filtered through the various states from June 1940 to December.  There were a few arguments between governments.  As children, we were often startled to see motor cars with strange boxlike contraptions on their hoods.  As adults we came to understand the research to create another fuel from charcoal was not enthusiastically supported by the petrol companies.

From December, 1941 Australia was placed under total war preparedness. We kids had a joke we were rather proud of: “Don’t panic; remember Pearl Harbour!”

Fear , Then as Now – A Proven Way To Control People's Actions
Fear Then as Now – A Proven Way To Control People’s Actions

Prime Minister Curtin promised “equal sacrifice” for all, and pegged wages and prices on February 11,1943. 

High Motivation For Car Sharing
High Motivation For Car Sharing

Other shortages began to change the world for us.  Chewing gum and rice, for example, disappeared completely. Radios, vacuum cleaners and bottled beer drifted out of sight. 

Gradually the public swung into action to promote the war effort. Metal products and silver paper were brought into schools, to be collected and turned into weapons of war, or so it was said.  Penny-lines were placed around school playgrounds to be converted into war capital.

We All Thought We Were Helping!
We All Thought We Were Helping!

Austerity became another war-cry. My young brother, Victor Henry Levi,  won a prize at our school fancy dress ball as “Austerity.” He wore a sugar bag, neatly stitched together by a loving mother Marjorie Levi, and featuring bottle-top buttons.

To reinforce the drive for austerity, bicycles suddenly became attractive.  Horse-drawn ploughs became more common in rural areas.

The economy was soon focused totally on war production.  Mind games also began.  People who over used their cars were publicly maligned. The States openly competed to protect their financial interests, especially against Federal Government income tax access because of the war.

Identity cards and ration books (with their precious coupons) also became a part of life. So too did the Black Market. Rationing was strict.  All people from 9 years upwards were required to register for rationing. The “waste-makers” were temporarily cured during that war. 

In 1942 really serious restrictions began: March 30, tea; May 9, clothing; August 31, sugar; and in June, 1943 butter and drapery were rationed.  On January 17, 1944 meat was rationed.

Things were tough for all but the very rich during those early war years. Black Markets existed too, by the way. Political change was in the air though for us ordinary people.  Widows pensions and child endowment belong to those years. Labor’s 1943 National Welfare Fund, involving invalid pensions, funeral benefits, and maternity allowances for all, was new ground for Australia.  Also the proposal for a national health scheme was another first. 

There were many other new experiences during the war.  Railway stations had their names taken away to help invaders become lost. Air-raid shelters were built by home owners everywhere – an apparent government regulation.  At night we children loved to watch the searchlights darting among the clouds.

Searchlights Of An Earlier Time. Things Change Little.
Piercing The Dangers Of Darkness

Also at night, if you looked out to sea, you would see the flashes of gunfire, like lightning in the sky.  This was practice sometimes, and at others the real thing. 

The Tweed Heads and District Historical Society, a fine source of knowledge today in the twenty-first century, tells us that 41 Allied ships were sunk off our coasts during the war, by submarines, ships, mines and Japanese aircraft (mainly to the north and in 1942). These losses included HMAS Sydney off Geraldton, Western Australia on November 19, 1941 with the loss of all 645 sailors, and the hospital ship AHS Centaur of the east coast on May 14, 1943 with the loss of 268 lives.

Merchant sailors died too.

Just a Symbolic Image. One of Countless Similar Pictures. My thanks to Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-61-17 / CC-BY-SA.
Just a Symbolic Image. One of Countless Similar Pictures Down All The Years. My thanks to
Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-61-17 / CC-BY-SA.

We children of the time knew little of these imminent dangers to us.  Nor did we know of submarine sightings by fishermen such as Claude Edds, who sighted a submarine off Tweed Heads in 1943 and told the authorities.  Many merchant sailors died off the eastern coast, from such ships as the Wollongbar which was sunk off Coffs Harbour with the loss of 32 crew, and the BHP ore-carrier Iron Crown, sunk of Gippsland’s coast in Victoria, with the loss of 37.

Partial Source: http://www.bigvolcano.com.au/stories/THDHS/index.html  Date accessed: 18/5/12 at 6.38 AM.

Life at that time was exciting for Ern — until he broke his leg, one miserable sports day, in a school football match on Erskineville Oval. It was a bad break. It meant a year of school without football.

Now Ern was a good Rugby League player. Played on the wing. He loved the game. He was fit and fast and fearless. Under those conditions the game loved him.

Ern's Heroes: Newtown's 1943 Sydney Competition Winning Team. You can find more on this here, if you are interested.
Ern’s Heroes: Newtown’s 1943 Sydney Competition Winning Team. You can find more on this photo here, if you are interested.

When the break came in two places on his leg, the prospect of a break from the game as well, for a whole year, was a dire prospect for the teenager. He was quite good at schoolwork but Rugby League was his real passion. Without it, life was incomplete.

That was why he asked his father, Ernest Edward McQuillan, OAM — the famous coach of 60 boxing champions, and a man of some influence — to try to get him a job as a press photographer. Ern Senior did that for him.

Ern became a “copyboy with a camera” with Truth And Sportsman Limited, under the mentorship of Ezra Norton and his staff.

This photography copyboy was chosen, among other things by Fate, to help found Sydney’s Daily Mirror. Thus began the “golden apprenticeship” which led to this story.

Such was the world Ern was plunged into. In those early years with Truth and Sportsman Limited, he learnt his craft well. He had good teachers.

Work for Ern was definitely not child’s play.

No elaborate equipment in those days. The film for your day’s work was savagely rationed. No digital cameras or electronic transfer of your photos. No multiple images to choose the best from. It was one shot and you’re out! No cutting and pasting. At the end of the day you had to return to head office, develop your prints and then hand them to the editors.

Public transport was all you had. An early Packer rule was that en route to Head Office you alighted from the tram at the end of one particular section and walked the rest, to save a penny or two.

♦ ♦ ♦

Come with me now and share a little more of Ern’s life. It’s quite fascinating simply to take random samples from the jobs he did, from the meetings he had  –  mere small parts of the historic infinity that was his new existence.

 Darby Munro was the most inspiring jockey in my lifetime.

Ern has told me that Darby said to him one day in 1952, “Hey Ernie! I want you to do your best quality close-up picture of me.”

What his reason was I certainly don’t know. But this picture was the result. You will find it in many places, scattered throughout the sporting archives of the twentieth century. Somehow it reveals more than words can do, the intractable spirit of both the jockey and the photographer.

Darby Munro – "The Demon Darb!"
Darby Munro – “The Demon Darb!” He and Ern were good mates

Here too are Darby’s Racing Hall of Fame details, a brief but fair summary of a special life,

Here is the1955 Maitland flood I was trapped in, as a Raymond Terrace dweller.

If you visit the link on the flood, you might be interested to hear that I saw the surf boat working on its way to the place mentioned, Millers Forest.

Ern's Picture
Ern’s Picture

Ern took the flood picture from a Gypsy Moth. His pilot was A J “Titus” Oates, the distinguished World War II air ace. Ern spent four years with him photographing Australian landscapes. Once they sighted a crashed and missing paper delivery plane in the Barrington area of NSW. They landed in a paddock. A bull put a horn through the plane’s wing fabric, during another “unconventional” landing. “Titus” patched the hole with glue, fabric and paper.

Such was that life of Ern and his friend. It’s an honour to record it here.

 and now the queen.

Yes, the kid from Newtown, sparring partner of his father’s champion boxers, photographer for the first edition of Sydney’s Daily Mirror, and former military photographer, was honoured by a meeting with a new Queen in 1954. Ern Junior shook a royal hand.

Her Majesty's First Visit To Australian Soil
Her Majesty’s First Visit To Australian Soil. Ern’s camera noted that very first step.

One of Ern’s earlier duties was to create images for The Australian Women’s Weekly. During the first Royal visit he worked with distinction to create a historic record of the Royal Visit we can now admire in the National Library’s Trove, as well as other social events down the years. You can see this archive, via the magic of modern technology, here, here, here and here.

then there was “the queen of the night.”

Nobody knows the truth of the saying, a picture is worth more than a thousand words, better than newspaper proprietors. Their evidence dates back even beyond Joseph Pulitzer and Randolph Hearst. In the pre-Australian television days, press photographs were crucial and extremely powerful. Ern therefore found himself a frantically busy “I’ve been everywhere man.” In these many daily duties, he was part of history.

Characters of every description were part of his job. That is why I have found, in my chats with Ern McMillan, stories of amazing links with our Australian past. One of those stories involves the legendary Matilda (Tilly) Devine.

"Tilly"
“Tilly”

That name, “Tilly” Devine is the stuff of gangster folklore. She suits many storytellers, especially in television, as an attention-getting element of wickedness. She was part of the recent, Australian TV Underbelly series.

Ern, however, found something different. Accounts of Tilly’s childhood in England filled with suffering and danger. A violent marriage and immigration to Australia in her teens, to be caught up in the slough of despond and despair of Sydney’s Darlinghurst neighbourhood. Suffering, rivalry, police convictions and punishment were all part of her norm.

Ern has told me she was friendly, pleasant and easy to talk to. A kind of soft compassion for the underprivileged she seemed to have, especially towards her brothel “girls.” No pretence. Just a quiet understanding of the way life is.

I myself feel a different person, having talked to Ern about “Tilly.” As a teacher I have often had to search for that little bit of good that is in the worst of us.

♦ ♦ ♦

Now I have so much to choose from, writing here that I can be selective, for the fun of it. So why not this one to start with?

Bernborough: ruler of the 1940s racetrack.

 

This is another underworld story, of sorts. Bernborough, as you may have noted from the link, was virtually hidden for his first six racing years in Toowoomba, Queensland because of a shady deal by his first owner. That owner had a horse called Daylate, whose death he forged and whose victories under another name in beginners’ races earned the owner a very long ban! It also meant that Bernborough was not allowed to race outside Toowoomba. There, racing authorities could check his entry into races and make sure the original owner was not illicitly using a substitute owner for himself. Outside Toowoomba they felt less confident.

 

Two Champions: Bernborough and Athol Mulley, both very good friends of Ern.
Two Champions: Bernborough and Athol Mulley, both very good friends of Ern.

All this limitation changed when Dazzlin’ Azzalin Orlando Romano, the sly-grog Sydney restauranteur bought the horse. Also a string of 15 victories began for the remarkable stallion. I saw one of them at Randwick, from the Flat (no longer available) where the poor people went. How could you forget the thundering red giant coming from last in the Straight to comfortable triumph.

Here are some more of Ern’s glimpses of Bernborough.

Two Champions at work: Mulley and Bernborough.
Two Champions at work: Mulley and Bernborough.
One of 15 Consecutive Triumphs: The Newmarket, 1946.
One of 15 Consecutive Triumphs: The Newmarket, 1946.

I’ve read quite a bit of Shakespeare. His words come back to me now when I think of Bernborough. Or Tulloch for that matter, another of Ern’s friends.

…When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk:

The Flight Of Tulloch

he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it …

Henry V Act 3, Scene 7

There is no space at all here for a complete file of Ern’s Press Duty contacts. No room for all his friends either. To complete this post, I choose but a few names.

The first is  Joseph Patrick Taylor (1908–1976). Joe Taylor was a long time friend of the McQuillan family. When the Newtown Hub was a “normal” cinema and not a porno haunt, there was always a free seat on a Saturday night for the two “Newtown kids” Ern and his brother Allan. At Christmas, there was regularly a treat for the whole family.

Joe was quite a character in the world of his day. Grade Rugby League, restaurant and nightclub ownership and racehorse ownership and illicit gambling were all part of that mix. He also described himself at one of his weddings as “bookmaker and shipwright.”

He owned a number of racehorses and served on the committee of City Tattersall’s Club for more than ten years. His horse Birthday Card won the 1962 Sydney Turf Club’s Golden Slipper Stakes. He gave away most of his winnings and lost the rest on another of his horses which ran last in the last race of that day.

During the Forties, in the war years, Joe linked up with ‘Thommo’s’ Two-up School. George Joseph Guest, the original owner was an actor. When he opened the illegal venue in 1910, he use his acting name Thompson to protect his identity. In 1954, when Guest died, Taylor became “the Boss” at Thommo’s. It was quite a place, that two-up school. Illegal clients were dutifully protected. If you had a big win, no other player was allowed to leave for twenty minutes after you left the establishment. A gunman with a criminal record was available to accompany you home on request.

It’s very hard to find images of Thommo’s. I suppose that is understandable, considering it’s nominal illegality. The Australian National Library gives us this link which may satisfy some of your curiosity.

Bouncers needed understandably to be tough in such a place – capable strongmen. Jack Gibson, the famous League player and coach was one for a time.

Ern visited Thommo’s only once. His father, Ern Senior, forbade further visits as he was afraid Ern Junior’s trigger camera finger would endanger the secrecy of the establishment. He need not have worried too much as the “secret” establishment was actually well known in the real world, frequented by such public figures as Jack Davey or Errol Flynn,

Errol Flynn in the very early film Operation Burma
Errol Flynn in the very early film Operation Burma

State Premier Bob Askin,

Premier Askin, as Private Askin in World War II
Premier Askin, as Private Askin in World War II

or, as an example of the reality of things, by a leading Sydney cleric of the period. Ern worked for Ezra Norton, another frequent visitor to Thommo’s. The archives reveal that the secrecy of the “invisible casino” also had considerable support from the media and the police force.

The fascinating thing however, is that Ern had personal contact with with so many of Thommo’s attendees: Davey, Flynn, Askin and  so many  others. He said so much more to them than “Smile” or “Say cheese.” Tales to tell elsewhere.

In the golden days of Ernest Mervyn McQuillan, Arch Press Photographer, managers and agents were relatively rare. Ern’s camera with jockeys, for example, was clearly a “ticket not to Ryde but to ride.” His publicity was so often a source of future engagements.

Another fascination for me now is to listen to Ern talk about his meetings with the famous in various other places as well. He has given me a much better understanding of their personal qualities – the kind of understanding you don’t get from media glimpses.

When Joe Taylor died in 1976, the funeral procession of cars took a long time to arrive at Sydney’s Catholic Cathedral. The largest wreath was spectacular. It contained affectionate words from “Thommo’s” stating how much “Boss” would be missed.

For Joe Taylor I found, among others, these sources interesting and well worthy of your visit:

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/twoup-taylors-chequered-career-20110531-1few1.html My visit: 29/9/14 @10.05 AM

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-joseph-patrick-11830 My visit: 29/9/14 @10.21 AM

http://forums.leagueunlimited.com/archive/index.php/t-393413.html My visit: 29/9/14 @10.25 AM.

The fascinating thing however, is that Ern had personal contact with with so many of Thommo’s attendees: Davey, Flynn, Askin and  so many  others. He said so much more to them than “Smile” or “Say cheese.” Tales to tell elsewhere.

In the golden days of Ernest Mervyn McQuillan, Arch Press Photographer, managers and agents were relatively rare. Ern’s camera with jockeys, for example, was clearly a “ticket not to Ryde but to ride.” His publicity was so often a source of future engagements.

Another fascination for me now is to listen to Ern talk about his meetings with the famous in various other places as well. He has given me a much better understanding of their personal qualities – the kind of understanding you don’t get from media glimpses.

When Joe Taylor died in 1976, the funeral procession of cars took a long time to arrive at Sydney’s Catholic Cathedral. The largest wreath was spectacular. It contained affectionate words from “Thommo’s” stating how much “Boss” would be missed.

For Joe Taylor I found, among others, these sources interesting and well worthy of your visit:

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/twoup-taylors-chequered-career-20110531-1few1.html My visit: 29/9/14 @10.05 AM

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-joseph-patrick-11830 My visit: 29/9/14 @10.21 AM

http://forums.leagueunlimited.com/archive/index.php/t-393413.html My visit: 29/9/14 @10.25 AM.

Second last, I choose a tragic pair of contacts.

Harold and Zara Holt
Harold and Zara Holt

Ern met them a number of times. As with all Press people, he was involved with the disappearance and consequences.

♦♦♦

I thought I might end with a special event for us ordinary folk. 

 I invite you to visit this lovely, fascinating, historically significant site:

ROUND OFF THIS POST.

This is the one of the many fine pictures here, picture really important to us. Ern took it. It shows his great awareness of time in our lives. I hope you enjoy its social significance. Be sure to look at the clock.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. Two minutes to a lovely closing time."
“Ladies and Gentlemen. Two minutes to a lovely closing time.”

More of my thanks to you for coming here.

Royce

Another plea:

Where are you publishers? Film makers?

Ern and I need you.

If you lose our stories, you’ll be sorry, I think.

My Books

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All images on this site are my own or from Wiki Commons. If there is any error, please tell me and I will fix things immediately. All my thanks to the wonderful Wiki service, and to the artists who share their strength and bring us joy.

 A Welcome From Me

6 thoughts on “The Further Adventures of Ern McQuillan OAM

  1. How lovely to read your writings, after meeting you last week at a city appointment.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, insights and life stories.

    Very enjoyable

    1. Thank you so much Carol. Everywhere – in a classroom, on the stage or simply in a conversation, the listener is so important.

      Walt Whitman apparently felt that great poets needed great audiences. This still struggling word user certainly is encouraged by your kind response.

      I enjoyed our conversation too during your professional role at our city meeting.

      My best wishes in all that you do,

      Royce

  2. A wonderful read, a wonderful man and real character. I have been researching my Grandfather, Allan Stewart of Nourlangie Safari Camp NT, originally from Bondi. Your father Ern, took some wonderful publicity shots of Allan. I would love to know if there were any more about.
    I love reading about the characters of this era and I agree, why aren’t the movie and series makers getting onto these brilliant and often hilarious stories. I myself am ‘collecting’. Big Jim Bowditch, another NT character, well worth a look as well as many others.
    Lets hope these special blokes are never forgotten.

    BEST regards
    Susie

    1. Thank you Susie. Ern is not my father, just a friend. I met him some years ago, having been introduced by another friend, and I stayed with Ern down some years to compile the blog story. I have been lucky to meet some members of Ern’s family too. Ern’s photos of your grandfather must be treasures.Your interest in the characters of history is a fine way to learn about the past.
      Regards and more thanks,
      Royce

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