Shirley Cumner

Celebrating the life of Shirley Cumner nee Mc Sweeny

In Shirley’s words….

I was born on the 3rd of June 1933 in the Woodford Hospital which was situated in Archer Street. My parents were John Kenneth and Edith Ann Mc Sweeny. I am the youngest child in the family. My siblings were Patrick, Hazel, Dorothy, Jack and Ronnie (the twins) Harry and Brian. At this point I am the last living Mc Sweeny of my generation in this line, so I hope I tell our story well.

My earliest memory is probably riding my pony across the river to Stanmore School. Dad would help us cross as the banks could be slippery and quite dangerous.

I had plenty of friends at school. I remember Mary Ison, the Burnham girls, Jim Kirby and the Cochran kids. The teachers I remember were Miss Large and Mr Needham. There was probably 20 to 30 children enrolled then. The sport I played was basketball and I loved to play a game of marbles with the boys. I think I may have been a “tom boy” as I only had my brothers at home then. I even used to wear Brian’s cloths!!!!

When I was young there was always Brian, Harry and I go for the cows. I remember not having shoes and on cold mornings getting the cows to move from laying down to put my feet on some warm ground. We milked the cows by hand and fed the pigs and calves. We always grew our own vegetables, feed for the cattle even peanuts and sugar cane. We had poultry too – chooks, ducks and guinea fowls. The goats were always on hand to kill for good fresh meat.

My dad was a hard working man who not only worked the farms but also worked for the forestry making fire breaks. This gave my brother Harry the opportunity to muster and break in the brumbies he would find in the bush. He’d always jump on the wildest horse in the yard and go like the wind with Mum yelling to “slow down Harry”.

While dad was away working Mum and us children, with the help of our good family friend Essie Sahliquist (later Mc Cabe) would run the farm. Mum was a loving and caring lady who worked just as hard on the land as she did in the home.

We worked hard but our leisure time was spent with our horses and down at the Stanley making canoes out of pieces of tin and floating down the river in them – especially fun in flood times. I don’t think Mum and Dad knew half what we got up to. None of us could swim I still can’t.

We didn’t go to town very often. Syd Ferris would pick up our milk and cream in the milk truck and drop off supplies in a sugar bag.

One of my next memories is the War years. My brother Jack went off to war. What a horrendous time that must have been for Mum. She spent so much time making fruit cakes, biscuits, socks and scarves to send to the boys. I remember writing Jack’s number on all the parcels – QX49245. That number has always been etched in my mind. When Jack finally came home he was so thin and very sick. It took him a long time to get over the War.

Happier times were had after this. Dad always bought me all the old 78 Country Music records for the wind up gramophone and so many happy nights were spent listening to the music of Hank Wlliams, Roy Acuff, Tex Morton and Buddy Williams. My brother Ron and I would sing with the back up of Dad, Mum and the rest of the children who were at home.  The love of Country Music stays with me today. Happy times were had on the Cove Road farm.

Another lovely memory I had at the time was riding my pony over to see Mrs Dunning – Mabel’s mother. She always had a gift for me and lovely biscuits. I loved my time spent with Mrs Dunning.

Dad bought other farms then and we all had to “pitch in” to help run them.

Visitors would come up from Brisbane, Uncles and Aunties. The children would always be outside. There were plenty of adventures to be had with our city cousins.

Life moved on and I went to Brisbane to work with my cousin, Joyce Rudduck. The years rolled on pretty quickly after that. I moved on got married and had a family. We moved from Woodford for a time but came back and retired here where I know live back in Archer Street.

I look around and see things changing so much in the area I wonder what Dad and Mum would think of Woodford now – The traffic, the number of houses and new people moving to the district. The life here now is a fast one, where our life was a simple one but full of hard work and family fun on the land.

I think about the legacy Mum and Dad left me and my siblings and it always comes back to having a good work ethic, and happy memories made through spending time with your family.

Mum’s Eulogy read by Cath Worgan

Those were Mum’s words, now I’d like to share mine from a daughter’s perspective.

As you heard from this small piece written by Mum, her early years were simple but full of adventure.

Her adventurous spirit took her away to work, mostly as housemaids in hotels. I recall her telling me that her and Joyce worked in the Broadway Hotel at Woolloongabba and others I recall were Boorooran and Goondiwindi.

The years rolled on and Mum went on to get married and have 3 beautiful girls –Bernadette, Denise and Cath. Then 5 years later along came 3 more beauties, Tony, Gail and Patrick to complete the family.

Gran played a major part of our upbringing, always helping with the little ones. Expecially when Mum was working – then at the Woodford Cheese factory. Mum made life-long friends when she worked at the factory – Dawn Bradley and June Wriede’s names come to mind.

In 1976, Dad accepted a position in Bundaberg as a Sawmill foreman for Petersons. So up she goes on another adventure leaving her beloved Woodford.

Mum had numerous jobs in Bundaberg – including cleaning for homecare, the aged, a dear old lady Mrs Stitt comes to mind. Mum loved her. Also cleaning the squash courts, picking vegetables, the fish market and then working at the mill. All these jobs were extremely hard, but still Mum managed to look after her family.

During this time, us 3 older children were married with children. Nothing was better than to go up to Bundy for a holiday with Nan and Pop.

Nothing was too much trouble for Mum. My children recall conversations like “Nan, can we make play dough?” – “Yes, ok love”. “Nan, can we make jam drops?’ – “ok love”. Never worrying if the flour went all over the floor. “Nan, can we go to Kelly’s Beach?” – “Yes, we can!!” The kids would paint her toenails and fingernails and she would even let them shave her legs.

Mum could feed a multitude of people in no time at all and make it go a long way. Now that was a real feat. She loved to feed everyone.

When the mill closed in Bundy, they came back to the farm in Woodford, not far from where she grew up at ‘The Cove’. She had her beloved cows all named and all would run to her to be fed.

Mum was always scared of rising flood waters which seemed ironic when she and the boys made the tin canoes and she went into the flooded river with them as a child.

They decided to sell the farm and eventually bought the home at 146 Archer Street in 2001.

During these years, she enjoyed crocheting. She made us all tartan rugs, bed socks, washers and tea towels. I think we are all stocked up well. She enjoyed reading all sorts of books, especially Country Music autobiographies – her favourites, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. I think I bought her every book ever written by these two. If she read one where the author knocked George, she’d put it down. “What the hell would they know”, she would say. Then, she would read another version if Good George – and she’d be ok with that. She read all these books numerous times and every time she’d read them, she’d put the date and a little message to me. This was 2 of my favourite messages”:

26-4-2014 – “Hope George and Tammy are singing up a big party when I get there”

11-7-2013 – “Still loving these books Cath, you will love them when you get old and have time to read – Love you”

Mum was blessed to have 6 children, 15 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren. Gee I hope I didn’t miss any. The children were her joy.

About 3 years ago, Mum got on Facebook. Wow – here’s an 83 year old – never used a keyboard before and she was off. She got to see all the kids and what we were all doing. She always wanted to go to Nashville. She was there!! All the country music she ever wanted was at her fingertips. She absolutely loved it. Couldn’t sleep – “where’s my iPad?” Not long ago, I sent her an advertisement for Georgette Jones playing in Nashville on 2 May this year. I said, “Mum, what’s say we go?” Her reply to this on Facebook was “I’d love to, but not in this life – the next one”.

The last few months of her life were spent with Nicky, Dennis and the girls. She got to experience another style of living, with the beach at her door and eight little great grandchildren to enjoy and play with. She loved them. Thank you to the Mackenzie family for caring for Mum and giving her a joyful time at the end of her life.

Mum was a mother who gave everything of herself and asked for nothing in return. She put no value on any material things in life. If you said you liked her skirt, she’d take if off and give it to you.

She was an avid lotto player and though it never made her rich, she kept having a punt. Didn’t she Jess!!!!

Mum is the last Mc Sweeny left of that generation. So now it looks like we here are the next. So today we celebrate the life of Shirley Dawn Cumner. We all love you Mum.


Shirley as a young woman on one of her horses


Shirley in front of her family home on “The Cove”


Kevin and Shirley at a family wedding