Home - Chermside & District History

1940s - Des Lee

The Lee Saga

The original immigrant in the Lee family was William Lee who died in 1929 aged 92 years at the home of his daughter Alice Mary Napier, Hurstville, Sydney, NSW. He was buried in the Church of England cemetery at Woronora, Sydney, NSW.

William had married twice, first in 1864 at 27 to an Irish immigrant, Alice Irwin and they had six children of which only three reached adulthood. Alice arrived on the "Wansfell", landing at Port Denison where, family lore has it, William saw her coming off the ship and decided that he would marry her; he did.

The family travelled extensively in eastern Australia finally settling in Melbourne where Alice died in March1885 and William remarried in July 1885 to Mary Cunningham, a widow. Apart from the marriage being without issue, the family knows practically nothing about the second marriage.

After William's death his descendents examined William's sea chest which he always kept near him and found a hidden drawer containing papers which revealed his true identity. In 1837, he was named Arfst Knudten born at Alkersum on the island of Fohr in the North Frisian Islands off the south-west coast of the Denmark Peninsular. William or Arfst was one of 11 children and when his father died in 1891 he stated in his will "All the children were loved but Arfst, since 1863, he has not been heard from". Just when he left the island is unknown and the family lore is that the date was 1855, the 1863 could be when he last communicated with the family. Mystery! In 1855 he would have been about 18 and that may have been when he would have been eligible to be conscripted into the armed forces for training. Possible?

It is thought that like many of the men from the islands, he joined a ship, worked as a sailor and gradually found his way to Australia, possibly north Queensland sometime before 1864 when he married Alice in Bowen.

He probably assumed the name William Lee when he 'jumped ship' after arriving in Australia. As he was not a British Subject he was possibly an illegal immigrant, or maybe he thought he was and he remained 'under cover' for the rest of his life. He never owned property as he thought it might come to the notice of the authorities and reveal his identity. At his death he was classed as an Old Age Pensioner and probably obtained the pension early in the 20th Century even though he did not have a birth certificate to guarantee his eligibility for the pension.

Today the Lee family, descendents of William (Arfst), living in far off Australia are related to the network of Knudten relatives and their descendents from Fohn in Denmark, across Europe and across the United States of America.

And Desmond Granville Lee didn't know a thing about his ancestors until he received a phone call in about 2007 from a researcher in Sydney who had been looking for him on behalf of relatives in USA. Since then he has been in contact via email, phone and visits with an ever widening family.

Map of Denmark: Fohr is on the south-west coast between Sylt and Amrum



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The Island of Fohr in the North Frisian Islands


The Island of Fohr is located between the names of Sylt and Amrum on the above map.

Wikepedia provides a good outline of the island of Fohr while the official website of Fohr gives a much more detailed one, if you can read German, however the pictures are good.

Wikipedia notes that the island is 12k X 7k in area and has a population of 8,593 living in the town of Wyk and 16 tiny hamlets. The population is a mixture of Dane, German and Frisian while the island is officially German. It was Danish but German after 1864.

Fohr is known as the green island because it is sheltered from the North Sea by the western islands of Sylt and Amrum. This allows the vegetation on Fohr to flourish.

Chermside from my earliest memories and from what my parents told me.


Des Lee with his grandfather, William Lee when the family had been evacuated to Charleville during World War II

Desmond Granville Lee, Born 20-07-1935 2nd Child to Edith May Lee and Arthur Desmond Lee. I was delivered at my maternal grandmother's home in Chalk Street, Wooloowin, Brisbane. A brother for my sister Daphne, 9 years older but now deceased.

My family, then living at Hamilton Road, Chermside had previously lived in Horn Road, Aspley, and prior to that, with dad's parents on a small poultry farm at Whites Road, near Mill Hill or Chummy Town as the area was known locally.

About twelve months later we shifted to a house in Duff Street, now known as Kuran Street. This name change took place after World War II when the street was continued past Kingsmill Street to open up the development of the Housing Commission Area.

The house was quite unusual inside as all the partitions were timber to a height of seven feet (2.1m) with glass paneling above, allowing light to spread more easily through out the dwelling. It backed on to Simpson's sawmill and I have memories of finding my way over there on numerous occasions. We shared this house again with dad's parents and my grandmother passed away on Boxing Day 1936 when I was 18 months old.

About a week or two later, on a Sunday morning after having been to the Lutwyche Cemetery, I could not be found. I had got out of the yard and fallen into Somerset Creek next door. Dad spotted my blue shirt under the water, pulled me out and called for help.

Joe Rice, the Head Teacher, who lived in the school house and had one of the few phones in the area, called the ambulance and proceeded to roll me back and forth over a round washtub until the ambulance arrived with a new type of resuscitator which they used to save me. The story made the newspapers and mum kept the cutting to show me many years later.

Only a week or so after this, I reached up to my grandfather's cupboard, got hold of his cut-throat razor and sliced across my left thumb cutting an artery and again needing ambulance assistance.

I have many memories of this house and yard; like playing in the puddles in the yard after rain and having a Lobbie (Yabby) nip my finger; dad carrying me on his shoulders across the flooded creek to get the Sunday Mail from Reid's General Store and Post Office; the day a cousin and myself managed to knock dad's motor bike and side-car out of gear and roll it out from under the house without damaging it or ourselves. I was an adventurous child who was very lucky to survive those early years.

Our Own Home


The family home in Palomar Parade, now Wavell Heights. The first step was to clear the bush and they moved in before the house was finished. This was common in the post World War II period as the housing shortage was acute and the population was growing at an unprecedented rate.

Mum and dad bought a 40 perch (a quarter acre or 1,012 sq metres) block of land at 9 Palomar Parade, Chermside, later called Wavell Heights and dad and grandfather built the start of our family home. We moved in on Christmas Eve 1939. I can remember that the flooring boards were only cut and loose laid in the lounge and dining room areas. Only a few rooms had wall sheeting, there were no ceilings or ridge capping; you could see the stars through the gaps at night.

There was a wood stove, copper boiler, ice chest and meat safe, no refrigeration. There were only two power points in the whole house, one for the electric iron in the kitchen or the radiator to warm us in winter and the other in the dining room for the wireless (radio).

The move from their rented house to the new one was quite a big event. They didn't just get a removalist but Dad did the job using his motor car, a Baby Austin. It was probably the smallest car available at the time, small as a Mini Minor with a 'dicky' seat on the back. Dad carted everything beds, dressing tables, sideboard, Carver Chair, Mum's Glory Box and much else. After all Dad was a carpenter and they are masters at improvising.

When petrol rationing came into force Dad put the Austin on blocks under the house for the duration of World War II.

We had a dirt road in front, bush at the back and on both sided, no fencing, only back stairs at the time, a neighbour across the road and nor more for quite some distance.

What a great place for me to start exploring? There were snakes, blue-tongued lizards, goannas, spiders and every creeping and crawling insect imaginable. After World War II when they cleared the bush away we found death adders as well. We roamed, bare footed and played in the bush constantly and killed many snakes, the theory then being that the only good snake was a dead one.

The bush was all thick secondary growth about two metres high. One day during World War II when some of the boys were on their way home from school they met a US serviceman who had set up a small shelter in the bush and was living there; he was also armed with an automatic pistol. They told their parents and the serviceman, who was AWL, was rounded up by the military police.

People living in the area had to walk or ride a bike to Lutwyche to catch a tram to the city and some women had been molested, especially when they were coming home after work. When Daphne finished school she had a job in the Valley and used to cycle to the tram terminus each morning. To protect her on the home run, Des would ride down to the tram, meet Daphne and they would ride home together.

Much of our requirements were delivered to the door because so few people had cars then. The milk, ice, fruit and vegetables, fish, meat and groceries were all transported by motor vehicles while the bread and clothes props came in horse drawn carts. The Rawlings man used to walk with his suitcases of small everyday items used in the home.

Footloose and Fancy Free


The Lee family in front of their new house. L-R Standing: Daphne May, Edith May. Sitting: Arthur Desmond holding Desmond Granville while they both sit on a toy car.

I started school at Chermside in 1940 aged 4 years and 6 months in Prep 1. I think Joe Rice took me early as a favour to my parents knowing what an adventurer I was. I continued at Chermside until 1945, at which time I had already skipped one grade because of the lack of teaching staff caused by so many young men joining the armed forces. It looked like it might happen again so I was transferred to Aspley State School and commenced there in the correct grade for my age, Grade 4, and never looked back.

I rode a bike from Wavell Heights to Aspley every day, hail, rain or shine, varying the route, sometimes along Gympie Road, sometimes along Maundrell Terrace. We used to call the latter Mongrel Terrace because it was so rough.

I guess some of my best memories of growing up here would be the freedom and safety we had to roam the area; the many visits to the Dawn Pictures; the many Japs and Jerries we shot in the bush; the day the plane crashed in Chermside Army Camp; the bike rides to Cash's Crossing and Scout's Crossing for swims.

However one of the saddest events was the cutting down of the very old and large gum trees that were growing down the centre of Gympie Road and had to make way for the trams and rose garden beds. We can't stop progress, can we?

As kids roaming this area we never went hungry because we knew where the best mango, guava, persimmon and Brazilian Cherry Trees were, and Cape Gooseberries were plentiful. When all else failed there were the market gardeners to visit.

Since Dad was a carpenter he was drafted into the CCC the Civil Construction Corps (aka Curtin's Crazy Circus); he did try to enlist in the Army but was rejected on medical grounds. This meant he could be sent to distant places and once, when he was working in Charleville, the family went with him and lived in flat. Another time he was sent to Darwin to help rebuild the Sea Plane Base.

When he was working in Brisbane he lived at home and travelled to the work site. Sometimes he would take Des with him for the day; one such time was to Archerfield Aerodrome. They left home at 5.30am with Dad riding his pushbike and doubling Des to the tram at Lutwyche which took them to the city where they caught another one to Salisbury. Then a CCC bus took them to the airfield. Security was very lax in those days and Des was free to wander around the site examining all the interesting things to be found. He was especially taken with a Lockheed Lightening, a double fuselage fighter and the cleaners let him look inside.

Do it Yourself Amusements of the 1940s


Everybody rode bicycles in the days before cars became common. Des would have to ride his Dad's bike under the bar till he was big enough to get his leg over the bar. He is dressed in his Sunday best and going to Sunday School at the Anglican Church, All Saints.

The local tip or dump used to be a wonderful place to scavenge for useful material for young boys and old boys of all ages. It was the old equivalent of the modern 'Trash and Treasure' stall at the local fete and didn't cost anything save for the trip out and back.

Archaeologists rhapsodise about ancient dumps because they tell so much about the local area thousands of years ago.

A tip or dump was at the western end of Hamilton Road about the area of White Street and the current Milne Hill Reservoir in what is now West Chermside. In the 1940s it was a long way out of the village but not so far when one had a bike.

Bill Argo from the bike shop used to use it and the young boys would fossick for bicycle parts such as axels, cotter pins, pedal spindles and lots of other things.

Des and his mate made a canoe out of a sheet of galvanised corrugated iron. To form the prow the GI was bent double with a piece of wood in between the two sides, which were then nailed to the wood. The stern was made by nailing the other end of the GI sheet around the side of a butter box while and a couple of pieces of wood across the middle held the sides in place. All the holes and seams would then be tarred with bitumen garnered from the local road during the hot summer days when it was soft.

The canoe would be launched when there was a flood in the creek that ran through Gallagher's Tannery on Gympie Road where Top Taste is now situated. They would launch the canoe upstream from the tannery and let the current carry them down to the tannery pond. When the canoe would sink from taking in water they could find it in the muddy water because they had a piece of light wood tied to the canoe with a long piece of string. Find the floating wood and follow the string down, secure a piece of rope to the canoe and haul it on to the bank.

Fishing for Lobbies or Lobsters or Fresh Water Crayfish, in NSW they are called Craybobs. Whatever the name the method was the same; a piece of string with a piece of meat firmly tied on the end. The Cray grabbed the meat was hauled in, popped into a jar, taken home, cooked by Mum and eaten by all. Another catch was eels in all the local creeks, but they tasted like mud so they weren't so eagerly sought.

The large, old gum trees that Des mentioned in his talk were spread intermittently along Gympie Road from the Lutwyche Cemetery through Kedron and Chermside at least as far as Early's shop near Banfield St Chermside. (A remnant of similar trees could have been found on Sandgate Rd Virginia from Jefferis St to Goss Rd Virginia until it all went in 2009) It needs to be noted that Gympie Rd up till WWI was just a couple of tracks separated by a mass of grass and trees.

A variation on the canoe building was related by Ken Ryley a few days before he died. He and a mate used the same tip as Des but found a galvanised Iron "tin" bathtub and plugged up the holes using bitumen chopped off the road, heated in a tin over a fire and spread liberally over any potential leak.

Des Recounts His Post School Years


After completing my schooling at Aspley State School and passing the Scholarship Examination in December or 1949 I applied for and was given a start with the Queensland Housing Commission as a Probationary Apprentice Carpenter and Joiner.

I started work in the February of 1950 at the Trouts Road Housing Project at Stafford (Cr Trouts Rd and Stafford Rd) and spent the next 7 years working there after being signed up to an apprenticeship when the 3 months probationary period was completed. When I started there was only one house completed but still not occupied, seven years later there were close to seven hundred homes built. Now this was just before the innovation of powered tools. So we learnt to use and sharpen all of our hand tools but I must add that it took a lot longer to build a house than compared to today. BUT when I drive past them today, I notice that they are all still standing and looking quite good after the 53-60 years since they were built.

I went to Wacol and served my compulsory 3 months training period and was then transferred to the 11 field Squadron RAE which was part of 4 Corps. Engineer Regiment stationed at Blamey St. Kelvin Grove. Today the area is part of the University. I served for 6 years in the CMF and during this period I attained the rank of Transport Sergeant for our Squadron. I completed my apprenticeship, met and married my wonderful wife Bev

Bev Burnett


Bev's parents, Olga and Don Burnett, brother Edward and Bev herself. The photo was taken in about 1950.

Bev was borne in 1937 while her family was living in Wandoo Street Fortitude Valley; the third daughter to Don and Olga Burnett. Not long after this, the family shifted to Evelyn Street at The Grange.

Don enlisted in the AIF at the outbreak of the war and was soon sent to North Africa where he served in Tobruk and other places. Then after being recalled to Australia they were sent to New Guinea to repel the Japanese.

Bev went to school at Wilston and not long after her dad returned to the family at the end of the war a brother arrived by the name of Edward Harley (Ted).

About 1949 her parents bought land at Chermside and built a home in Hilltop Avenue and she attended Chermside State School where she completed her schooling.

On leaving school she acquired an apprenticeship with H. G. Marsden Milliners in Fortitude Valley and became a very accomplished Milliner. Being very good with needle and thread, she was, and still is a great seamstress and fancy worker also. And I must add, One of the world's Greatest Cooks. (I am biased of course)

She and her two sisters were allowed to go to the weekly dances held at the Kedron War Memorial Hall on Saturday nights, and that is where we met in about April 1954, and we married just over three years later. We have now been married for 53 years and are enjoying these Twilight Years just as much as those earlier ones and we thank God for all of his bounteous gifts. AMEN.

Wedding Day 14-9-1957


The Bridal party arrives at the church and, it seems the wind is blowing. Bev is escorted by her father, Don, the Bridesmaids Heather and Denise, Flower Girl Leslie and Page Boy Leister.
Des and Bev as they came out of the church door after the marriage ceremony.

The Growing Family


Russell Lee

By 1959, we had just built the essentials of our house and shifted in during the June of that year and Russell was born on the 2nd of September to add to our joy and happiness. When I say essentials I mean no steps, front or back patios, battens under the house, garages, paths or driveways, fencing, painting inside, built in robes in the main bedroom only and floor covering in the kitchen and main bedroom only. So I still had plenty to do in my spare time of which there was very little as I worked 9 hours each day and 6 days a week for the first 10 years of our marriage. It sounds very much like the way Mum and Dad did it. About this time I entered into a partnership with a couple of mates and we worked for ourselves for the next 4 years. During these years Brett was born on 1st September, 1961, and Dean arrived on 26th January,1964. So now we had our brood of boys much to the pleasure of my parents because Dad now could see the Lee name being continued. .

Seeing Australia


Brett Lee

While working at Moranbah, building a new coal mining town in Central Queensland in 1971-72 the building partnership disbanded, on friendly terms, and Bev and I decided to continue on and do a working trip around Australia. Some very good Irish friends had just returned to this country and they moved into our home and looked after it while we were away. So we moved on in the May School holidays of 1972 and eventually arrived home on Xmas Eve 1972, having been away from home for 18 months in all.

The trip was a wonderful experience, particularly in that time period, as many of the roads were still unsealed, Uluru was still Ayers Rock and none of the many interesting places in this vast country had been commercialized and petrol was only a fraction of today's prices. The dearest that we paid was 77cents a gallon inland and about 30 cents a gallon in the cities WOW! We all agree that the experience brought us closer together and the many memories will last a lifetime.

The Next Generation


Dean Lee

On arrival back in Brisbane the boys soon grew into men and now are all happily married with lovely wives and 10 children ranging from 27 years down to 2 years, and just recently our 3rd. great grandchild arrived.

Mum and Dad lived to see only the eldest of our grandchildren Joel and the two children of my sister and her husband Les, (Gary and Leslie). Bev and I celebrated our Golden Wedding on the 14th. September 2007.

The Mature Years


Part of the extended Lee family at Bev's birthday party.

Now after 53 years of happy marriage we have added 3 lovely daughters-in-law, 10 grandchildren (3 granddaughters and 7 grandsons) and 4 lovely great-grand-children, 2 of each, and can never get enough of their company. The Lord has been good to us.

I spent over 51 years in my trade, the last 38 years as a Registered Builder and I retired in 2000. I never needed a diary in all those years, now I can't move without one. Lawn Bowls had been one of my most enjoyable pastimes and I have been a member of the Geebung Bowls Club for 37 years and along with my wife Bev we still help out with Chermside Meals on Wheels. The Probus Club of Wavell has also been a great joy to us since retirement and we try to keep up an active lifestyle and involvement in its management.

Of course my longest involvement has been our Church. I started attending Sunday school at All Saints Church of England in 1939 and Bev and I still worship there every Sunday. Today it is called All Saint's Anglican Church and is still filled with a great bunch of welcoming and caring Christians. Come and join us some time.

Thanksgiving for Life and Family


We are extremely thankful to all of our ancestors on all sides of our families "Paternal and Maternal," for of course, without them we would never have been. Our era has been probably the most exciting times of all. With the rapid advancements in technology, medicine, and science that we are enjoying today, my mind boggles at what the future must hold. Let us all hope and pray that it is for the benefit of all mankind and God's Bigger Plan.