December marked a year since Margaret’s brothers had departed for the battlefields. More family and friends would depart by the day, and she had already received her first letter from her cousin Claude, whom she had seen off a few months earlier. Tragically, he would lose his life in the Battle of Bullecourt in 1917. Her brother Jack had also written, but not Arthur, whose reluctance as a correspondent caused her to grumble many times during the year - and occasionally joke that perhaps the censor had intervened.
Recovering from the temporary calamity of losing her purse, containing 8/4 (‘down [my] umbrella all the time’), Margaret spent a good deal of the month shopping for necessities - the reason becomes clear when she notes that one of her purchases is a ’glory box (and very nice too)’. With the uncertainty of Fred’s possible conscription now out of the way, the couple were free to marry in the new year. The first weekend of the month was set aside for films, and on Saturday 1 December she attended the “Crystal Pal[ace], Fred & Mum, saw good program, Fairbanks and Wm Hart, nuff said!” The bill of fare was one that any silent film fan of today would still thoroughly enjoy (and could do, given that both movies survive) - Douglas Fairbanks in Manhattan Madness, and William S. Hart in The Return of 'Draw’ Egan, both products of Thomas Ince’s Kay-Bee component of Triangle Pictures.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 16 September 1916
We have already seen that Margaret was a particular fan of Hart, but her children later remembered her regarding the charming, athletic Douglas Fairbanks as her favourite male star. It is quite possible that Manhattan Madness is the film that introduced her to Doug, who had made his film debut in The Lamb only a year earlier.
Though best remembered for his swashbuckling today, Fairbanks’ early film roles were more reminiscent of the sort of stage farces in which he had made his name. The plot of Manhattan Madness, based on a short story by O. Henry, found Doug as a Western cowpuncher who is bored by the slow pace of life in New York.
That is, until a surreal set of events propel him into an unexpected adventure: a beautiful Russian lady rushes up to him, thrusts a hot bun into his hand, snips off one of his coat buttons, whispers “Parallelogram!” into his ear and rushes off down a side street. Rightly baffled, Doug finds himself in the midst of all manner of madness that is explained by a surprise twist in the final reel.
Advance publicity described the film as 'a society picture, a mystery picture, an adventure picture, and a comedy picture; in fact, it’s all kinds of a picture.’ True to form, Fairbanks sought any vehicle that would allow him to show off every facet of his appeal, and he was very soon rewarded by becoming the world’s favourite male film star.
Motion Picture Magazine called Manhattan Madness 'cleverness supreme … it is a joy to find an original photo drama that can compare with the best stage comedies’. Motography agreed that it was 'the most sprightly and rollicking entertainment that an amusement seeker has a right to expect,’ thanks not only to Fairbanks but his director, Allan Dwan, who was to direct the star and his future wife, Mary Pickford, in some of their best films. No doubt Margaret agreed with Motography’s description of 'a real, honest-to-goodness-treat’, and it seems that she was not alone. The film became the first since Billie Burke’s Peggy whose popularity justified a transfer from the Lyceum to the Crystal Palace, where it appeared for several more weeks and was paired with William S. Hart’s thrilling The Return of 'Draw’ Egan.
Source: Sunday Times (Syd) - 26 November 1916
As the more established star, Hart might have been slightly miffed to hear that 'the thrills, quick action, and suspense of this picture compare favourably with those of any Fairbanks picture,’ particularly as Fairbanks’ earlier hit, The Good Bad Man, was evidently influenced by Hart’s own persona. The Return of “Draw” Egan, directed by Hart himself from a script by C. Gardner Sullivan, centres on an outlaw who makes an abrupt escape from a life of crime and becomes determined to better himself to win the love of a good and simple woman (played by Margery Wilson).
'Draw’ eventually becomes the sheriff of the wild frontier town of Yellow Dog, and widely respected by its residents. The past catches up to him in the form of a former ally who threatens to expose his violent past if he does not agree to turn a blind eye to his gang’s criminal exploits. 'Draw’ is desperate to avoid his new love finding out about his transgressions, and also to maintain the trust of the townspeople, but is left with no choice when she herself comes under threat.
As noted in nearly every review, it was not the story but the execution, atmosphere and subtle performances that made for an excellent film. 'The story is simple enough, and it lacks extraordinary qualities,’ said thePhotoplay Journal. 'But the way in which it is developed and worked up by the director makes this one of the best Western photoplays of our time’.
The Sunday Times added that both Fred and Margaret would have found much to enjoy: “This is the strongest man picture we have had from Hart, yet all through there is the romantic appeal in the pretty love affair between the outlaw and the girl, whose innocence and purity becomes his greatest inspiration.” Much was said during 1916 about the ongoing evolution of the feature film - sometimes padded with un-necessary material, sometimes unevenly paced, based on stage material for which film was ill suited, or scattered with intertitles that were too numerous or too few. Manhattan Madness and The Return of 'Draw’ Egan found the medium at last reaching its early maturity, and can easily be enjoyed as much today as they were nearly a century ago.
2nd December 1916
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Over the course of 1916, it becomes evident that Margaret based her film selections on two main criteria. For a picture of particular appeal, she was would take the trouble to travel into the city to attend a more expensive first-run cinema. Otherwise, she would settle for whatever was showing at one of her usual local theatres, which could sometimes be more of a gamble. She opted for the latter on Sunday 2nd December, attending the Audley Theatre - “Saw Kitty Gordon, ‘Her Maternal Right.’
Though the screen attempted to recast her as a sophisticated tragedienne and dramatic actress, the British born Kitty Gordon had begun her career as a Music Hall singer in what was delicately described as the 'girl show’ - a cabaret featuring plenty of decorative ladies in abbreviated costumes.
Taller than average, and often described in reviews as 'striking’ or 'statuesque’, her habit of changing outfit numerous times during a performance led her to be described as the best-dressed woman in vaudeville. The most famous of her costumes featured a plunging back that was considered extremely daring. Soon, Ms Gordon’s back was almost as famous as her front. If rumours were true, it was insured for £1,000!
By late 1915, her increasing propensity for walking out on shows prematurely and quibbling over contracts meant that the time was ripe for Gordon to join the exodus of stage stars looking for film work. After talking to a number of different studios, she accepted $1,500 per week for an initial one year contract - a very large amount at the time - with the World Film Corporation, a conglomeration of various early film companies then headed by Lewis J. Selznick. Her screen career was brief, and though she made over twenty films before returning to the stage in 1919, only one, Tinsel (1918), survives today.
Her Maternal Right, Gordon’s second film, was evidently a troubled production, which was abandoned during filming by its original director, John Ince (brother of Thomas Ince), and completed by Robert Thornby. It told the story of a capricious musical comedy star and 'she-vamp’, played of course by La Gordon, who falls in love with a young banker, played by Emory Townsend. In keeping with the typical 'vamp’ storyline, Townsend’s love leads him into iniquity, and after embezzling his bank to fund her expensive lifestyle, she abandons him to marry a wealthy mining magnate. Through various very melodramatic plot twists, the stolen money is returned, virtue is rewarded and transgression punished. Reviews for Her Maternal Right almost universally agreed with Margaret’s description of the film as ’not much’. The New York Clipper dismissed it as 'a commonplace melodrama of mechanical construction,’ Photoplay called it 'vacuous and echoey’. Motion Picture News was polite but unenthusiastic, while Variety was excoriating, describing Gordon as an 'extremely poor screen actor’ and a 'bovine clothes-horse’ whose beauty did not translate well to film. Australian reviewers found very little at all to say about the film, other than to admire the costumes.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 1 October 1916
With this in mind, it is not surprising that the Australian release of Her Maternal Right was low-key to say the least. Upon its initial appearance at the Crystal Palace, where it was ostensibly the main feature, it was advertised in small lettering at the bottom of a huge half-page advertisement for its supporting comedy feature, Keystone’s two-reeler The Waiter’s Ball, which had already proven so popular that it was being given the benefit - very rare for a short - of being held over for extra showings. Clearly, it did not need a distinguished feature to increase its drawing power. It is very likely that the Audley Theatre showed the latest episode of The Iron Claw as its supporting attraction for Kitty Gordon, as Margaret noted ’series OK’.
5th December 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 3 December 1916
"To See Tom Moore, Allan Doone"
When Margaret went to see the stage play Tom Moore at the Palace Theatre on 5 December, the real miracle was that the Palace Theatre was open at all.
In early November, New South Wales miners, already feeling politically ill-used by the conscription debate, saw an opportunity to push weakened State and Federal governments on an issue over which they had already fought for half a decade: an eight-hour working day for all mine workers. A major coal strike later extended to railway workers and general labourers.
Neither side would budge, and with New South Wales the producer of 90% of all of Australia’s coal, the situation rapidly developed into a national crisis. Coal was needed to power the steamships that were taking troops overseas, and the Government commandeered all national resources for that purpose. Domestic reserves dwindled quickly, and as the impasse continued, towns and cities were crippled. Public transport, mail services, the lighting of streets, and the pumping of water were severely restricted. Theatres were thrown into disarray, relying on large amounts of electricity to light their stages, and the ability of artists to travel from interstate, a particular concern when a number of expensive overseas stars were arriving for the lucrative holiday season. By the end of November, J.C. Williamson were forced to shut a number of their theatres, but others, including the Palace Theatre, were more nimble, installing petrol-powered generators to ensure that the show could go on. “The light that failed hasn’t affected the Doone season in the least, except in the direction of further crowding the already well filled Palace Theatre,” said the Mirror of Australia. “Tom Moore is proving a fine drawing card, and the season looks like being prolonged.”
To perform a patriotic musical based on the life of Tom Moore, the great Irish balladist, was timely in more ways than one. Irish nationalism was always a strong part of working class Australia, and the Easter revolution, conscription debate and current industrial stand-off, would have only served to bolster it. It may be no coincidence that J.C. Williamson chose to revive the Irish-themed Peg O’ My Heart at around the same time. The Irish-American actor Allan Doone specialised in "Typically Oirish“ fare, as Margaret described Tom Moore. His success upon his initial tour of Australia in 1909 was such that he had since made annual visits, and continued to do so well into the 1920s, establishing a regular company of local actors and appearing in an Australian-made film, The Rebel, in 1915. Australia was also where he would spend his summer holidays indulging his love of competitive driving, motorcycling and trap shooting.
Source: State Library of NSW
The Palace Theatre once sat on Pitt Street, a close neighbour of many of the cinemas Margaret often attended. Though it was well situated and featured an elaborate baroque interior, it was never considered quite as successful as competitors such as the Tivoli. Nevertheless, it did host some significant events, including the initial season of the Bert Bailey company’s On Our Selection, one of Australia’s greatest theatrical successes.
After the arrival of sound film, it went back and forth between showing films and returning to live theatre. It was demolished in 1970 for the construction of the Hilton Hotel, and there is now almost no reminder that this part of Pitt Street was one of Sydney’s liveliest entertainment districts.
6th December 1916
Source: Mirror of Australia, 2 December 1916
Common Clay (Stage Play)
The Criterion Theatre had been amongst those interrupted by the the coal strike, shortening the season of Common Clay that Margaret and Fred attended on 6 December. The play was a starring vehicle for the visiting American star, Florence Rockwell.
Rockwell had been performing in theatre since the early years of the century. After appearing in roles as various as Ophelia in Hamlet, Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and Hester Prynne in the stage adaptation of The Scarlet Letter, she made a move to vaudeville in 1915.
Moving pictures were already encroaching upon the popularity of the stage, and there were only a few options for well-known actors whose careers were in a downturn: film roles, or a lucrative overseas tour, taking advantage of the fact that audiences were still willing to pay large amounts to see a ‘name’ actor in person.
Initially, Miss Rockwell took the first option, but her films captured neither the imagination of her audience nor of the actress, and after a brief return to vaudeville, she signed a six month contract with Australia’s J.C. Williamson for a series of plays, of which Common Clay was the first. Her initial reviews in this production were good enough for J.C. Williamson to take out a half-page advertisement in America's Variety to publicise them.
The play itself was the product of an annual playwriting competition run by Harvard University. While it had first appeared only in 1915, it had become a surprise smash hit, with a successful Broadway season and touring productions appearing all over America.
Its success was all the more surprising, given the controversial subject matter. A downtrodden young woman, played by Rockwell in the J.C. Williamson production, becomes a maid to a wealthy family and begins a relationship with their son. Shortly after he departs for the war, she has a baby. The family treat her as little more than a gold-digger for seeking their assistance in supporting the child, and are exposed as the hypocrites that they are. Common Clay formed the basis for film adaptations in 1919, 1930 and 1936, though the subject matter was somewhat neutered for the screen.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 3 December 1916
With the interruption of the coal strike, it initially seemed that the Sydney season of Common Clay was over before it had properly begun. The Criterion was shut for nearly two weeks while an adequate alternative power supply was sought, and in fact did not re-open until the day the strike ended, on 1 December.
Miss Rockwell herself was circumspect about the disruption of her appearance, which critics agreed had meant that not as many people sawCommon Clay as the quality of the piece deserved. After all, she had witnessed far more violent strikes amongst the miners of the Montana goldfields while on American tours, which included exchange of gunfire. Perhaps in realisation that the approaching holiday season would soon absorb much of her time, Margaret had spent as much of early December at the theatre or cinema as possible. As she observed, “Leading the life lately!"
13th December 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 19 November 1916
The Old Folks At Home
TheOld Folks at Home, which Margaret saw at the Audley Theatre on 13 December, was a product of Fine Arts Pictures, the arm of Triangle Pictures that was supervised by D.W. Griffith. The film was designed as a starring vehicle for the great British thespian Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, whose hiring, for the astounding fee of $100,000 for thirty weeks’ work, was considered a coup for the newly formed Triangle conglomerate.
Aside from Beerbohm Tree, the only other member of the cast whose name is familiar today is the young actress who played Tree’s teenage daughter, having only recently graduated from child roles. A few years later, Mildred Harris suddenly found herself one of the most famous women in the world - not for her acting, but for her brief, unfortunate marriage to Charlie Chaplin and their equally unhappy divorce. TheOld Folks at Home promised much - a folksy tale by the popular author Rupert Hughes, which told of a kindly rural senator whose naive son falls victim to a group of sinister fair-weather friends in the city. Behind the scenes, matters were more complicated. Much like the great Sarah Bernhardt, Sir Beerbohm Tree was found to have no feel for motion picture acting, to the extent that it was later claimed that an extra was brought in to re-film some scenes in his first American movie, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which his stage mannerisms were too apparent. The situation that was unlikely to have been helped by the fact that producer D.W. Griffith was preoccupied by the release of Intolerance, his epic follow-up to Birth of a Nation, while shooting took place.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 19 November 1916
After all the publicity for Beerbohm Tree’s entry into films, The Old Folks at Home came as a curious anti-climax. Reviews were positive without being terribly enthusiastic. Moving Picture World was just one publication to wonder why the story did not give the distinguished star much scope to demonstrate his talents, and instead assigned the lion’s share of praise to Josephine Crowell, as the boy’s mother.
There was also disquiet in some quarters over the sentimental conclusion to the main storyline, which had the young man exonerated for a crime for which he was undoubtedly guilty, simply because of his mother’s heart-rending appeal to the jury. Next to the sophisticated recent output of Thomas Ince, The Old Folks at Home seemed a technical and thematic throwback, and it was to nobody’s great surprise that it proved a financial failure.
As with Her Maternal Right, The Old Folks at Home was placed before Australian viewers with very little fanfare. In this case, most of the Sunday Times film section was given over to a huge advertisement for Charlie Chaplin’s The Count, with not so much as a mention of The Old Folks At Home, the feature it was supporting.
Realising that he had neither the knack for screen acting nor an interest in acquiring it, Sir Beerbohm Tree abandoned his contract as quickly as possible when The Old Folks at Home was completed, and headed for New York. “They kept me at it 18 hours a day, Sundays included, so that the trip back on the train was the first chance I had to rest,” he said of his experience. “I have never known anything so luxurious as the leisure of that journey after working till after dark and then getting up before daylight." He soon returned to England, where he died suddenly of a blood clot the following year.
It is a shame that the film is now lost to posterity, but Beerbohm Tree’s own loss to the film industry was probably not great. It was only after spending large amounts on actors that Triangle Pictures came to realise what Adolph Zukor of Famous Players (later Paramount) had already discovered - that ‘Famous Players in Famous Plays’ were not an automatic formula for box office success. The greatest stars of the new medium, such as Mary Pickford, William S. Hart and Douglas Fairbanks, were the ones who had most quickly left their stage origins behind them and adapted to the demands of film. The Old Folks at Home earned a somewhat inscrutable review from Margaret, who wrote: 'v[ery] g[ood]’ but very weak.’
16th December 1916
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 17 December 1916
Peg 'O The Ring / Bettina Loved A Soldier
When Margaret attended the movies on 16 December, the last Saturday before Christmas, advertisements once again played down the main feature in favour of its ostensible support, the first episode of the serial The Adventures of Peg O’ The Ring, starring Grace Cunard and Francis Ford.
Ford and Cunard, whose professional partnership began in 1912, were pioneers of the serial form, writing, directing and starring in numerous episodes during the decade. Their first collaboration, Lucille Love, The Girl of Mystery (1914), had apparently been so popular in Sydney that they still appeared appeared in advertisements not under their own names but that of their characters in that series, Lucille Love and Hugo Lobeque.
The episode of Peg O’ The Ring that Margaret saw, entitled The Leopard’s Mark, was describe in detail by Motography:
‘The Leopard’s Mark’ opens with the arrival of the circus in town. The manager, Barnen, is anxious to learn whether Flip is really the father of Peg o’ the Ring, a beautiful aerial performer. Flip refuses to tell Barnen anything about Peg, so the manager instructs his henchman, Polo, to cause a distraction during Flip’s act, which will put Flip out of the way. He is fatally injured and determines to tell Pierre about Peg. Barnen listens to the conversation and hears Flip tell Durand the beginning of a long story. Flip was in love with La Belle, an animal trainer, who was the wife of Dr Lund, owner of the show. La Belle was injured by the animals. The episode closes at this point, leaving one with the question, “Who is Peg?”
The meaning of the episode’s title is made clearer in other reviews, which mention that Peg has a strange compulsion to lash and physically claw at people when she is emotional. Apparently, the leopard who attacked her mother passed on some of its personality to the child!
There was almost as much drama behind the scenes of Peg O’ The Ring as there was on the screen. When the series was first announced it was fellow serial stars Eddie Polo and Ruth Stonehouse, recently arrived from Essanay, who were to take the leading part, leaving only supporting roles for Francis Ford and Grace Cunard, who was to play Stonehouse’s mother.
This, combined with various management changes at Universal, did not sit well with the pair, who resigned from the production after having already shot several episodes. There was a period of tense negotiations with studio head Carl Laemmle, and many and contradictory media reports about the fate of the serial. Universal eventually saw matters their way, Miss Stonehouse’s existing scenes were scrapped and re-filmed with Miss Cunard, and a story was put out that Miss Stonehouse had been forced to withdraw after being injured in a trapeze accident. Eddie Polo was removed from the production at the same time. Whatever the true story behind its making, it is nearly impossible for us to judge the quality of Peg O’ The Ring today, as incomplete versions of four of the serial’s fifteen episodes are all that survive.
Source: Motion Picture News, 15 July 1916
Where other studios had attempted to get ahead with the expensive policy of hiring highly-paid stage actors such as Kitty Gordon and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Universal Pictures made a virtue of looking to literary successes for the stories in their elite Bluebird Photoplays. Bettina Loved a Soldier was based on L'Abbe Constantin, a 1882 novel by French author Ludovic Halevy, which told the gently comic story of an impoverished young soldier who was in love with a Frenchwoman whose wealth makes him shy of confessing his feelings.
If Bettina Loved a Soldier had performed poorly in America, as its lack of promotion in Australia suggests, the reasons are mysterious. It was often referred to as a high water mark in reviews for less distinguished Bluebird Photoplays, and Lovely herself had recently told at least one fan magazine that the part of Bettina was her favourite to date.
It boasted what Moving Picture World called 'two of the prettiest girls in photoplays,’ Louise Lovely and Francelia Billington, picturesque French settings and costuming that were widely admired. By coincidence, its director and leading man, Rupert Julian, also hailed from the Antipodes, having emigrated to America from New Zealand in 1911.
If anything, it was this 'prettiness’ that may have counted against it. Many reviews described the film in such colourless terms such as 'sweet’ and 'nice’, which suggested an emptiness at its core that Motion Picture News summed up in their description of the play as 'appealing almost solely to the eye’, and Variety as 'nice in story, playing, detail, direction, setting and photography, without excelling in any one’.
The title may also have proven problematic. Advertisements were at pains to emphasise that it was not a story of the current conflict, suggesting that there was a public fatigue for military subjects of any sort. Like the overwhelming majority of Louise Lovely’s films, it is now lost.
19th December 1916
"Too Busy To Enter Up."
Though Sydney’s cinemas continued showing films right up to and including Christmas Day, on which a program of revivals of recent hits such as Cabiria (1914) and The Spoilers (1914) were shown, Margaret’s days were beginning to fill with other duties as Christmas approached. Her younger brother Frank arrived home from the boarding school he attended in Newcastle, as did the Wilkins family’s ward, Mollie, who went to school in Mittagong. Three letters arrived from France from Margaret’s brother Jack, and there were hijinks with Fred, who had bought - and soon fell off - a brand new motorbike. By the following Tuesday, she wrote ’too busy to enter up’, and ruled a line down the remainder of the year.
It is unknown whether Margaret ever kept another diary. She was no doubt aware that the momentous nature of the world events that she was living through would be of interest to her descendants. It is less likely that she thought her cinema-going habits would inspire a similar interest, so many decades later. Other ephemera relating to her life has survived, preserved by her eldest son Fred - letters, film programmes, and a photo of a young soldier, Frank McKay, which remained in her possession all her life, before being passed on to her descendants and, in only the past few months, back to the descendants of this young soldier who gave his life in 1916 and was so fondly remembered by Margaret and her brothers. A survey of Margaret’s diary reveals just how important a period of transition 1916 was for the growing film industry. The era of the short film was ending, and the feature film was gaining precedence. Pioneer companies such as Selig and Lubin, who had been at the forefront of the industry just a few years ago, were on their last legs. New organisations such as Metro Pictures and the Fox Film Corporation, which would soon replace them, were producing their first films.
The Lyceum Theatre, Sydney, decorated to promote Triangle Pictures.
Other high-profile ventures did not prove so successful. Triangle Pictures, producer of the majority of the films Margaret enjoyed during the year, was cited as the future of motion pictures, but like later conglomerates such as Time-Warner-AOL, it virtually collapsed under its own weight. Servicing its own large distribution network required a relentless pace of production, and quality soon suffered. Mack Sennett and Thomas Ince departed in mid 1917, and by 1919, the company had gone into receivership. Fellow conglomerates, the World Film Company and V-S-L-E, suffered the same fate. Within a decade, the constellation of major Hollywood studios was set - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, Fox, and Warner Bros, to be joined in the sound era by RKO, Columbia, and Universal.
Source: Sunday Times (Sydney), 19 November 1916
On the home front, the various networks of smaller exhibitors were already giving way to two behemoths - Union Theatres (later known as Greater Union) and Hoyts, the duopoly that dominates Australian exhibition to this day. Union, which dominated the New South Wales film market, had been in the process of assimilating smaller pioneer companies, including West’s, Amalgamated Pictures, and J.D. Williams. It was largely under their aegis that more theatres were opened in Sydney during 1916 than any year in the city’s history. With the advent of the multiplex, and the construction of the massive George Street complex in the 1970s, these single-screen cinemas were destroyed, one by one, until almost none remain today.
We can also get some idea of Margaret’s tastes, as much by what she chose not to see as the film’s she did attend. She largely avoided the cycle of propaganda films that appeared during the year. As already discussed, cases in which a comedy is known to have been on a bill she attended but is mentioned nowhere in her diary suggests that she had no great love for slapstick. There is much textual evidence to suggest that she was highly influenced by advertising and promotion, particularly by the Sunday Times, which at the time boasted Sydney’s best film section, which would be expanded and eventually spun off into a separate magazine, The Photoplayer, in the early 1920s. This form of analysis can be carried only so far, however, as the fact that so many of Margaret’s local cinemas were controlled by Union Theatres meant that her choices were restricted. Still, there is also evidence that when she really wanted to see a particular picture, she would go to trouble to find it, such as when she went to the obscure Alhambra to see A Maori Maid’s Love, or to the Haymarket to share in Louise Lovely’s success. Of the feature films she is known to have seen during 1916, a little under half survive today.
As the year drew to a close, many newspapers were wary of sending readers the customary wish of ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’. The following year seemed to promise little to be merry about - a deepening crisis in Europe, and civil unrest at home. The prospect of 'Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to All Mankind’ had never seemed more remote.
Even those who had not lost loved ones in the war faced the prospect of another year of agonised waiting, wondering, and hoping against hope that their brothers, sons, fathers and husbands would make it home.
Fred (front row, left), Margaret (front row, middle), friends and family celebrate the end of the Great War, Manly, 1919. Source: Family photo
The following year, Margaret would finally marry Fred, and the lifestyle she describes in this diary changed forever. The couple moved to a cottage known as 'Myall’ in the nearby suburb of Haberfield. The year would also mark many less happy occasions. Margaret’s cousin, Claude Richardson, was one of nearly 7,500 Australians who perished in the futile defence of a town of strategically negligible importance, in the second Battle of Bullecourt in May 1917. In September, word arrived that both Jack and Arthur had been wounded during the fiercest day of fighting at the Battle of Polygon Wood. Even less information flowed to the family than it had when Jack was hurt in 1916, and desperate letters from Margaret’s parents, asking after their welfare, are still preserved amongst her brothers’ military papers. In the end, however, the family had the good fortune to welcome home both of the brothers, Arthur as a Company Quartermaster Sergeant. Less than a fortnight after Germany formally surrendered and put an end to the Great War, Margaret’s first son Fred was born, soon followed by sons Sydney and Tony, and a daughter, Therese. All three sons would follow in their uncles’ footsteps and serve in World War II, and Margret was amongst the fortunate mothers to see all three return.
Jack, Grace, Arthur and Margaret in the early 1960s. Source: Family photo.
Margaret could scarcely have imagined the Glebe that her great-granddaughter (your author) would call home for a decade, dotted with vegetarian cafes, secondhand bookstores and youth hostels in place of utilitarian grocery stores, and trams and drays. The old Victorian terraces that past generations looked upon as slums are now worth over a million dollars each, and today, Glebe is drifting ever further away from the sometimes harsh working-class town that Margaret knew, nearly 100 years ago, and occasionally sought to escape in favour of riding the wild plains with William S. Hart, or revisiting her childhood with Mary Pickford. Margaret died in 1971 and was described by her son Fred, who took the trouble to preserve and transcribe her diary of 1916, as “a remarkable woman."