My Dear Old Frank
The Bray Children's Letters
Florrie, Ethel, Percy, Frank and Marjorie Bray were all born on the Tweed River between 1870 and 1881. They were the children of Gertrude and Joshua Bray, who were among the earliest Europeans to permanently settle and farm in the district. They were raised in a large extended family, of 12 siblings, as well as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who lived close-by.
The Bray children’s remote upbringing nurtured close-knit bonds between the sisters and brothers. This loving connection and other aspects of the family’s daily life are reflected in the letters three of them wrote to their brother Frank, while he was at boarding school in Brisbane.
Childhood was free, adventurous and inventive, for the Bray children. Their home and playground was the lush environment of a rainforest remnant on the Rous River floodplain. The family lived in what became a rambling timber house, for it was added-to from year-to-year when new siblings were born or other needs were housed.
When very young, the children were schooled by their mother, and later they were given music tuition by their sister Florrie. Away from their school lessons time was spent outdoors or helping with home-based jobs that supported family life. Sundays were more slow-paced and often involved get-togethers with extended family and neighbours, as well as other pleasures such as letter writing.
The letters to Frank from his brothers and sisters are delightfully informal–they playfully begin with ‘My Dear Frank’ or ‘My Dear old Frank’, as though each were writing to a beloved aged uncle. Being the eldest, Florrie’s letters conveyed sensible news. Ethel’s lean toward good-humoured cheek and Percy’s highlight boyish adventures. Marjorie’s reflect her impressionable age at the time she wrote. All letters were signed off ‘your loving sister’ or ‘your affectionate brother’.
The letters tell Frank an assortment of news – the pudding, cream and tinned fruit had for Sunday lunch in 1895. The first bike received by the family in 1897–a second-hand ‘Australian Rover’. The ‘1 green pigeon & 2 brownies’ shot by Percy’s mates for ‘tucker’ when they were camping out in 1899. And the family’s new meat safe, which was ‘just like the bread safe’.