My great grandfather, Max Freidman, never let an obstacle stand in his way - he simply didn’t have the luxury of failure. At the age of 34 and already a widower three times over, he and his fourth wife, Sarah packed up their four children in the Pale of Settlement at Mariupol in the Ukraine for a new home in Australia. It was the winter of 1878.
What would have been going through Max’s mind as he prepared for the journey? Did he wonder whether they would even make it through the snow to the border? What if one of the children fell ill? At least Max’s older brother, Abraham, 46, was already established in Sydney and he’d offered to help them settle. So if they could just survive the journey, a new life awaited them in the warmth of that strange land.
Uprooting themselves from their small Jewish village would be a move that would greatly challenge their newly blended family. Max had just married Sarah, the year before and their first child together, Annie, was almost one. His other children from his previous marriages included Hyman, 7; Solomon, 4 and Elizabeth, 2 (who was to become my grandmother). However, he had little alternative to start a new life somewhere else as he barely made enough money as a farmer to pay his taxes.
One of the most perilous parts of the journey was just getting across the border into Germany but somehow they made it through. They eventually arrived in England where my great grandfather was able to find enough work to pay for their passage to Australia.
Surely they would have been tempted to stay in London instead of trusting their fate to the sea, aboard the SS City Of London - a passenger steamship with one funnel and three sail masts, which must have looked too flimsy to make the voyage? (Their fears were well-founded because in November 1881, 41 people would tragically die on board the City Of London when she was lost at sea.)
But they stayed true to their plan and boarded the black steamship. The City Of London set sail on December 18, 1979 and arrived in Sydney during the full blast of summer on February 16, 1880. Abraham was waiting to meet them and supported the family while Max found whatever work he could. He hawked goods from door-to-door, became a pawnbroker and then a jeweller, setting up a premises at 205 Oxford Street, Sydney and later at 124 Macquarie Street in the city.
There are no early photographs of my great grandfather, fresh off the boat. I like to imagine him looking like a slightly wild Russian in a big fur hat and a long black coat despite the searing heat.
There are no early photographs of my great grandfather, fresh off the boat. I like to imagine him looking like a slightly wild Russian in a big fur hat and a long black coat despite the searing heat. However the photo taken of him after he’d settled here shows him immaculately dressed like an English gentleman and the only sign of foreignness is his almond shaped eyes.
I guess that he must have grown tired of working in `retail’ because he moved his growing family (he and Sarah would have another 11 daughters with two, Fanny and Rachel, tragically dying as infants) to the South Coast of NSW. Max had decided to become a publican and in late 1893, purchased the Commercial Hotel, Mogo, from William Priddle.
At least the countryside was beautiful and lush. After his time spent as a farmer in Mariupol, the place must have fed his soul again. A few years later he purchased the Black Swan Inn and general store at Greenwell Point, near the terminal for boats arriving from Sydney to the South Coast. The family would spend 10 years there before he sold the business to his son-in-law, Frederick Cohen, in 1904. A popular identity in this remote area, where he was to take over the Carrington Hotel in Petersham, Sydney, he was accorded a public farewell attended by 100 people.
The story of Max Freidman’s life is inspirational to me because it speaks of courage, adaptability, resilience and endurance; qualities that are also seen in so many of the stories of migrants to Australia.
His decision to move back may have been purely practical because he needed to find good Jewish husbands for his many daughters and in this, he was successful. However, despite having lived such a full life with so many challenges that may have tired him out, he had no plans to retire. He died behind the bar at the Carrington Hotel (now known as the White Cockatoo) after suffering a heart attack.
The story of Max Freidman’s life is inspirational to me because it speaks of courage, adaptability, resilience and endurance; qualities that are also seen in so many of the stories of migrants to Australia. He thrived in a very strange land on the other side of the world but there’s still something about the knockabout nature of his life story that is quintessentially Australian, and one that I’m proud to claim.
Thr writer gives a special thanks to another one of Max Freidman’s great grand-daughters, Janice Lawrenz for the research into the family history.