Family Portraits


Standing in front of his portrait, looking a little more than panicked, Jim leaned in and started to lift the large picture off the wall. Its heavy frame seemed to almost resist being taken down.

“She knows, I’m sure of it Ruby!” he said to his wife.

“Don’t be paranoid, she wouldn’t understand what we were talking about.” replied Ruby.

Looking back, two gaping vacancies of wall now seemed very out of place. The portrait, one of two that hung in the lounge for the last fifteen years, had left a shadow of its former location.

Jim quickly wrapped the pictures in an old bed blanket and tied them with some twine.

“They can go in the shed. I don’t want them in the house.” he said.

Many years passed, cobwebs and a good layer of dust protected the pictures, concealing the truth.

Ann, a hardnosed Irish “Fitzgerald” from County Clare arrived in Australia at nineteen, alone and on a whim, taking the place of another young lady who by misfortune could not make the voyage. Spending seventeen years in Victoria, then a move to South Australia, she had held off on marriage and a family. At thirty three she married William Watters and set to work having children.

Leaving South Australia in 1896 with her children, Ann moved to Western Australia. Settling in Sawyers Valley in the eastern hills, just a stone’s throw from Mundaring. The Watters home stood towards the top of the hill on Throssell Street. A small home, made up of a centre core and add-on rooms built out from the original verandas. With more people than rooms, it had undergone many extensions, most without the proper care or permits. The house served the family well for many years but time was not kind, as the family matured, so did its now rusty exterior.

It was Christmas 1964 and no one really felt like celebrating. Ruby had died in early November and this was the first chance her family had to get together.

Jim and Ruby’s seven surviving children had planned this day to sort through their parents things. Percy, the oldest son, was lifting things out of their hiding places, checking for Redbacks then handing them over to his sister Verna, the new self-appointed matriarch, for examination. Each item had its own story and with that the siblings would stop, chat, and shed a few tears along with great laughter as they journeyed through the life and times of their parents.

Hidden deep in the back of a pile of treasures, Percy noticed a blanket covered parcel. Extending his reach he tried to lift it with one hand.

“Stop! That’s mine and I don’t want it broken.” said Verna

“Bill, give me a hand to lift it out.” said Percy

Gently the two brothers conveyed the package from its resting place, laying it at Verna’s feet as the others gathered round.

“Feels like a picture frame or something.” said Bill

“It’s two really pretty picture frames.” said Stella as she lifted back part of the blanket.

Pushing the others back, as if creating space for a suffering victim, Verna started to un-wrap the blanket.

“MAKE ROOM! I don’t want anything to happen to them” she exclaimed.

“One is of Dad and the other is Grandma Watters. They were taken at Uncle Bill’s wedding, I haven’t seen them in years.” she added as the pictures were finally revealed.

“Oh they are just beautiful, why were they in storage?” questioned Stella

“I remember the day Dad took them off the wall. You were just a baby Stella. He was yelling that if Grandma Watters were still alive, he would kill her himself.” replied Verna

Brian, the youngest, picked up the portrait of his father and with the most authority he could muster turned to Verna and said

“This one should be mine!”

“No! I’m the only one that remembers them, they are staying with me. That’s that!” replied Verna

The Christmases passed quickly and the siblings saw less of each other, catching up for coffee from time-to-time. On one such occasion Stella found herself leaning in the hallway of Verna’s home, sipping coffee as Verna cleared clutter from her guest room.

“I’ve hoarded so much stuff over the years.” said Verna

“You’re only putting me up for one night. Just take everything off the bed and we can push it underneath.” Stella replied

“No it can’t all fit under there. That’s where I store the portraits!” said Verna

Stella didn’t end up staying that night but she must have caught Verna in a very good mood, as it only took a small amount of pleading to convince her sister that the pictures had been hidden for long enough, and it was time for them to go on display. Before Verna could change her mind the pictures were whisked away.

Now standing in front of his portrait, feeling a little more than anxious, I find myself comparing the two pictures.

James Ernest Watters, my great grandfather born in 1892, twenty at the time the picture was taken in 1912, looking back at me with a soft calm focus.

But in the second frame, a face that seems to challenge me to look away and ask no questions. Ann Watters (nee Fitzgerald), born circa 1836. Although looking strong for a woman in her seventies, this is supposed to be his mother? That would make her fifty six when James was born!

It feels like Ann’s portrait knows why I’m here today. The mystery, that James had solved all those years ago. The secret that he felt his oldest daughter may have overheard when she was only ten. Now, the secret was mine and it was time it was told.

“Nanna, come sit down over here.” I said

Helping Stella, take a seat next to me on the lounge beneath the family portraits, I calmly revealed the truth.

“You know how you have always believed that Ann was James’s mother?
Well, the truth is, she was his grandmother!”



James Ernest Watters

James Ernest Watters


Ann Watters (nee Fitzgerald)



Ann Watters (nee Fitzgerald) – Death Certificate

Mary Ann Watters – Birth Certificate – Birth Mother of James Ernest Watters

Trove, THE BENDIGO ADVERTISER. (1893, May 31). Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved November 19, 2012, from

“CITY POLICE COURT – Messrs. Hoskins and Webb, J’s.P., attended yesterday. The case of Mary Ann Watters against William Phillips for deserting his illegitimate child was withdrawn, a settlement having been effected. Several small debt cases were dealt with, and the court adjourned.”

James Ernest Watters – Birth Certificate




HAA004 Writing Family History
Assessment Task 2: Short written narrative
Length – 1000 words
University of Tasmania
Darryl Brady
Student ID: 425182

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One thought on “Family Portraits”

  1. Hi, I also completed the HAA004 Writing Family History unit and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    I enjoyed this narrative immensely.

    I regularly check your sites (good quality and user friendly) for updates many of my past family are listed.


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