The Tuncurry Wright Family

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Karen Annand’s (nee Wright) family is part of the very fabric of Tuncurry’s history. As we approach Father’s Day, Karen wished to pay tribute to her father, David Wright, by acknowledging her family’s history and the role she hopes to play in the community moving forward. These words have been penned by Karen, from the heart …

My father is David Wright. He was born in 1940, in the days of the horse and cart, when the road to Taree was a sand and dirt track. Dad is now 78 and is the youngest of 10 siblings in the second and last generation of the Tuncurry Wrights who were born and grew up in the family Colonial Homestead.

The home “Tuncurry House” was built in 1886 by Dad’s grandfather (my great-grandfather) the shipwright and Scottish founding father of Tuncurry.

John Wright came from Scotland, via New Zealand, then Sydney. My great grandfather named Tuncurry after the Gathang Aboriginal word roughly translating to “plenty of fish”, but he changed it somewhat – in an attempt, I suppose, to make it sound a bit more Scottish.

John Wright took a 99 year lease on the waterfront and set about building the town. He built ship yards, a timber mill, a skins shed, the church, the school, store, and the first houses. 

Tuncurry House used to be located right opposite John Wright Park near the waterfront. One of my earliest memories is standing with my dad watching the house being moved on the back of trucks on a rainy day in 1981, when it was relocated to the back of South Street, Tuncurry; I would have been about three.

My dad is known as “Tink” (from the rhyme tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor) to his brothers and sisters, as he was said to be always off “tinkering” with bits and pieces of wood and metal from the house, mill and shipyards when he was a little boy.

Dad’s father died when he was about 14. Dad always had a close relationship with his oldest brother, Bruce, who was 18 years his senior and like a father figure to him. Uncle Bruce served in World War II and returned to Tuncurry, where he ran the family business “Wright’s Store” until retirement. Uncle Bruce was involved in many community organisations and only passed away last year at the age of 94. Dad would visit Uncle Bruce to have a beer and a chat at least once or twice a week until his passing.

Uncle Bruce was a very good footballer. Dad always wanted to do whatever Bruce did, so Dad became a very, very good footballer. Dad played First Grade for the Forster/Tuncurry Hawks in the “Lock” position – because that is the position Bruce played in. Dad also played rep-football for NSW in the schoolboy side. I didn’t even know that Dad played rep football until a couple of years ago. He isn’t into boasting and never mentioned it.

Uncle Bruce was a surf club boat crew champion. So, Dad became a surf club champion. My dad is a very good swimmer and was a very good surfer (long and short board). He won a Mid North Coast Belt and Reel Champion title at the age of about 20. Many people do not realise that Tuncurry once had a “surf club” that stood on the sand dune, around where the four-wheel drive track starts at Nine Mile now.

Dad built a couple of his own surfboards. In about 1981 he built himself a single detachable fin 8ft “Malibu” surfboard in our garage under our house in Taree-West. He put large red and green feature stripes down the length of it, to represent the “Tuncurry club” colours.

This is the board that I began to surf on when I was about 14. I call this experience more of an experience in surf-survival and “flearning” (failing to learn), rather than actually learning to surf! Some people are natural born teachers, and I know Dad will not mind me saying he is not one of them! His idea of teaching me to surf was to push me out into huge surf at Salt Water, Old Bar or Wallabi and say, “OK, now lie down and paddle hard” – then off he would go for a 4 km swim up the beach, whilst I just tried to stay out of everyone’s way (whilst getting dumped continually). 

This was also a seriously embarrassing experience, as at 5:30am, the surf was absolutely packed with boys from school who could surf really well. It was extremely rare to see girls surfing back then. Luckily, I was a very good swimmer, as I spent most of my time trying not get knocked out by the “mal”, which weighs about 10 kg. I never properly learnt to surf until years later, when I was taught by some friends at uni in Newcastle.

Some of the surfers and people from Taree area will remember Dad via the nickname “Old Bar Marathon Man”, as Dad would be out the back of the break swimming for kilometres with a black swimming cap on, on an almost daily basis. Due to ongoing back issues, Dad had to give away surfing in the mid ‘80s.

Dad still swims today at Forster Main Beach (as Dad is from Tuncurry, he refers to Forster as “going overseas”). He once went a little bit too close to the edge of the north breakwall at Forster Main and got sucked out to sea. Fortunately, the tide was incoming at the time. A fishing boat went past, and to this day Dad does not know whether they were yelling out to him, “Are you OK?” or ” You’re a total idiot, mate!” Dad got out at Forster boat harbour and sheepishly walked back to the beach.

Dad’s mum, amongst many other things, ran the “Tuncurry Baths” swimming pool in the lake, which used to be between where “Hamilton’s” restaurant and the Tuncurry boat ramp is today. 

My uncle, Harry Bennett (Dad’s cousin) ran the public swimming pool on the Manning River in Taree, where we lived for many years. When I was around three or four, Dad would often take me with him to the pool. We would check out the latest surf-ski uncle Harry was building, and I would happily hang out in the kiddie’s pool while dad swam laps. We would go to and from the pool on Dad’s motorbike. I had my own yellow helmet with a dark visor; I thought that was very cool! It is very likely not legal to have a small child on a motorbike these days – it was a different time.

It seemed like Dad was always stopping to pick up surfers hitch-hiking to Saltwater or Old Bar. Unless they had a spare set of “occy straps”, we would have to fit their board/s in the laid back front seat of the car, and they would sit next to me in the back! I recall not liking this too much and depending on whether I’d had a nap or not that day, I would either give them a death stare all the way to the beach, or alternatively, chat their ear off.

My dad was a crop duster; he was a pilot who flew single engine small planes, manoeuvring above and around some tricky and dangerous terrain to do his job. In 1969, he had a major accident; he had engine failure and his plane crashed into the side of a mountain near Scone. It took at least a day for the rescue effort to find Dad. He was extremely lucky to survive and was unconscious when found; he was in a coma for about a month and needed a tracheotomy to breathe. When he woke up, he had amnesia and to begin with; he could only remember his mother. My mum was about seven months pregnant with their first child, my brother Bruce (named after my Uncle Bruce) when the accident happened.

As a result of this accident, Dad has lived with chronic pain since and has many traumatic physical injuries and an acquired brain injury.

As a child, I had a respectful and fearful admiration of Dad. His brain injury left him with a short fuse and when my brothers and I were kids, he had zero patience. He was a very fit and imposing man at six plus foot, with a deep, booming voice. My brothers and I often forgot Dad slept between shifts at work. If we woke him up because we were being noisy or fighting, he would come out from the bedroom, thundering down the hall, “Keep quiet!” and we would run and scatter out of the house quick smart. 

As a product of his generation, he raised me with a tough and very old school parenting style. I was quite a challenging little girl, who would often talk back! I definitely liked to make sure I was seen and heard. I had a masterful ability to argue and almost certainly get my own way in the end. 

Dad and I share many personality traits, even though we are very different people. I love my dad, but we definitely do not always get along. We can both be quite defensive and fiery and we’re not backwards in coming forward to argue our opinions. 

Dad and I are walking contradictions, in that we are extremely introverted extroverts. We don’t like the limelight, but we will happily tell a story or put on a performance if the time is right (and sometimes not!) 

We both like to read, and we both love history. Dad struggled to learn to read, as he was dyslexic. He hated school and left at 15 to start a mechanics apprenticeship with Hardes Auto House, Taree. I loved school and learned to read early.

Dad absolutely loves music, however, he is completely tone deaf – as is my mother. I have always sung and played piano. I can play a few other instruments too and feel fortunate that Dad (and Mum) always encouraged me with music.

We’re proud of our history and Scottish heritage, but have very few real links to it left. Our family crest has an Eagle on it. Dad wore our “clan” tie to my wedding. My husband and I held our wedding in the church built by my great grandfather more than 100 years ago in honour of God and my family. 

There is no wealth, property or money left to inherit in the “Tuncurry Wright” family, which was once a very big ship building and multiple business enterprise. Descendants such as my father and I have a very strong work ethic and have always worked hard independently as individuals to earn any income and acquire our own assets.

I love Tuncurry; my heart is at home here. Tuncurry is beautiful one day and paradise the next. 

I’m glad my great-grandfather used an Aboriginal word to name Tuncurry. I have the utmost respect for Indigenous peoples, and I’m so glad to be from this generation and not from a previous one. I love Indigenous music, dance and languages. I believe Aboriginal elders should take pride of place in all schools and at the bare minimum, everyone should do some cultural awareness training with local elders. I’m a teacher; I feel it is my life’s purpose to work towards unity and equality. I want to ensure equal opportunities for all kids and to promote respect and understanding for all.

I see this place, Tuncurry, as Worimi country and Taree as Biripi country.

I wanted to tell this story because the older I get (I just turned forty) the more I realise, Dad – whom I have always seen as being “indestructible”-  is human like the rest of us and will not be here forever. Dad just had yet another operation, this time on his neck – partly due to old age, but mostly due to the ongoing ramifications of his accident. 

The first thing Dad did after finding out he needed this operation was … go for a swim at the beach.

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