Wednesday, March 02, 2011


I first arrived on Norfolk Island on Saturday 23rd July 1966. The next morning I told the people I was staying with that I would like to go to church, and they offered to drive me to All Saints at Kingston. On the way, we gave a lift to a rather elderly gentleman who was energetically heading down the hill on foot. He was wearing a brightly coloured striped jacket - like a cricket jacket - and spoke in a forceful and cheerful manner. When we reached the church, he took up his position beside the organist and "pumped" the organ with great vigour. These were the days before much of Norfolk Island had electricity.
I was told his name was Gilbert ("Gilly") Bailey, a Norfolk Islander and obviously well-known and liked, in spite of, and perhaps because of, his eccentricities.

Gilly had a wife, Clarabel, whom he affectionately nicknamed "Treasure".

Gilly and Clara on the verandah of their old island home.

I never met her, but a fellow teacher spent a few days in hospital when Clara was there, and told me about this old and bent lady with the most beautiful face and lovely soft manner. Sadly, Clara died not long after.

Gilly was lost without her. He took to walking to his sister's home, a couple of kms away, for company and consolation. His sister Charlotte, who was also elderly and disabled, would do what she could for him. She would give him a feed, and send him home.

Gilly with sister Charlotte, some years before

Now my house was along the road about halfway between Gilly's and Charlotte's, and I often gave him a lift, as did others. The first time I did this, I carefully and solicitously helped the old man from the car - only to see him then physically climb over his front gate!
There were many times when I would take him home, only to see him setting off along the road only minutes later!
Gilly's wanderings became a concern for the family, and it was obvious he was not taking care of himself. He was placed in the local hospital where, to this day, many of our elderly folk receive lovely care and attention in their last years.
Near the end of my time teaching here on Norfolk Island, there was a Christmas party for senior citizens put on by the Church of England, and I was there to lend a hand. At the end of the afternoon, I offered to drive Gilly back to the hospital, and he took great delight in "showing me round." He took me to the room of a female patient, a vistor to the island, and he was obviously flirting with her, offering to keep her warm in bed!
The hospital found him somewhat difficult. They were not really geared up for coping with dementia patients then, and Gilly was still physically strong. At nights, he would go around the hospital turning off the lights, to save electricity. Eventually the family was asked to make other arrangements for him.
At the time there was a young mother looking for accommodation, and it was arranged that she would move into Gilly's house in return for caring for him.
It was quite a good arrangement, but it did not stop Gilly's wanderings, and his desire to go looking for "Treasure." One night he fell by the roadside, and died of exposure.
A few months later, I was to marry Bernie, who was actually Gilly's great-nephew, and I have since learned more about his life.
Below is a picture of Gilly with his parents, George and Emily Bailey, brothers Herbie and Charles, and sisters Maria and Charlotte. Gilly is on the far left, and Charlotte is the baby. Another brother, Tom was to follow. Father George was an Englishman, from Devon, and it was inevitable that his children, including Gilly, would have some rather British ways and values. They all learned to play a musical instrument. I can recall visiting some of Gilly's neighbours one afternoon, and Gilly himself was visiting, and was playing "Trust and Obey" on their old piano.

Gilly was always a farmer. But he also became involved in other local industries that flourished on the island from time to time. My own father-in-law, who was Gilly's nephew, used to recall the days when Uncle Gilly was his Sunday School teacher. When the lesson was becoming tedious, the pupils would ask Gilly "Hey Gil, how much lemonseed did you collect this week? "(This was an industry at the time, collecting and sending away seed of the lemons that grew prolifically all over the island.) Anyway, this would put an end to the lesson, while Gilly enthusiastically told the boys about his activities during the week.

In this picture above, Gilly is at the back on the right, and Bernie's Dad George is at the back on the left. Note the shingle roof.
Later on, during the time of the Whaling Industry, Gilly was a sort of manager of the business, although he was not physically involved in the actual whaling.
He kept his keen involvement in his church all his life, and gave the church a block of land to build a hall. This is where the R.S.L. is now located. The church sold the land, and used the money to establish a building on some leased land further out of town. But they could never have done it without Gilly's generosity.
Gilly also became well-known for his home brewed wine, known as "soop" on Norfolk Island. (The "oo" rhymes with the "oo" in "took" or "stood." ) Gilly would make great quantities of passionfruit wine in particular. These were "prohibition days" on Norfolk Island, when alcohol could only be purchased officially with a doctor's prescription. Some of his best customers were the New Zealand troops stationed on Norfolk Island during WWII. Stories would be told of how Gilly would be serving the men, and would say "Now hurry up, fellows, I will be late for church."

This is a picture of Gilly with his parents and his sister Maria. He is a fine figure of a man, and looks to be a real gentleman!

Gilly never drove a car, but always used a horse and cart. In this picture, he appears to be proudly enjoying the company and admiration of some ladies who were visiting the island.


But his real love was Clarabel, his "Treasure." When they wed, Treasure was 45, and Gilly was 54. At first Gilly's family did not approve of the relationship, and I have heard stories of Clara having to hide under a rug in the buggy so Gilly's parents did not see her and take him to task. They eventually accepted that Gilly was old enough to make up his own mind, and not only was the marriage a very happy one, but Clara really endeared herself to her in-laws.
My husband Bernie recalls many happy occasions when he was young, of the family going to Clara and Gilly's home for a meal. Clara was a wonderful cook, producing "sweet wettles" as they say in Norfolk. But you did need to ignore the chickens running about in the kitchen! After dinner, the top would actually come off the dining table, and they would play billiards!

This is Gilly as I remember him.  Even in his old age - and he was 93 when he died - he was a man of great spirit and cheerful good humour. I am so glad that I met him and got to know him a little.
I have had a strong urge to tell something of his story. He had no children, and even the family members who knew him and remember him well are getting on in years. Too many of Norfolk's wonderful citizens, who have helped build this community through their generosity and the work of their hands, leave behind so little in the written record of their activities and their contribution to this island. There were no medals and certificates and honours awards for Norfolkers in those days. They were just quiet achievers, people pulling their weight in their close community. But it is important that they are not forgotten.
In my next posting, I will tell you a little of my efforts to perpetuate Clara's memory.


Karen said...

Thanks Mary for posting I enjoying reading all about Gilly. It's nice that you've kept his memory alive.

I think we're so busy and self involved with our own lives that we tend to forget about the past and those who lived in it.

Personally I couldn't tell you anything about my family except for my grandmothers, grandfathers, mom and dad. It's a shame because I'd like to know more but as you said nobody writes these things down so it's all lost.

Cristina Rose said...

lovely, Mary!

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