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About the Author
Madonna King is an award-winning journalist, commentator, and author whose previous books include Catalyst and Ian Frazer: The Man Who Saved a Million Lives. She is a coauthor of A Generous Helping and One-Way, and writes a weekly column for the Courier-Mail.
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Not Your Average Joe
By Madonna King
University of Queensland PressCopyright © 2014 Madonna King
All rights reserved.
Richard Hockey looked down at the newborn son he had craved. He hadn't even pretended to want a daughter. He had banked, every step of the way, on his wife, Beverley, delivering a bonny little boy. And she had. As Joseph Benedict Hockey lay nestled in his wife's arms in North Sydney's Mater Hospital, Richard was overcome with emotion. Witnessing the birth of his son, he couldn't help his mind racing back to his own childhood, when the happiness he felt now seemed almost unimaginable. Growing up in Jerusalem, with troops and civilians fighting it out on the streets, he had woken each morning with a fear and dread of what lay ahead and a loneliness that caused an ache in the pit of his stomach. He also remembered the final moments he spent in Palestine, his homeland, a land blessed with the spiritual landmarks of three different faiths, and cursed with a centuries-long tussle for moral and legal ownership.
In 1948, Richard had crossed the Jordan River from its West Bank, determined to pursue a new life that might be rich with potential; he dreamt of finding a new homeland, less cursed by entrenched rivalries. As Richard and his only brother, Jack, turned their backs on Palestine on that long-ago January morning, they performed one final act. Richard offered a guttural Arabic curse and spat on the soil, vowing to leave this land and never return. Their land of hope, their land of milk and honey, was to be either Australia or the United States. They joined hundreds of thousands who would make that journey in the post-war years as Palestine (soon to become Israel) shed its Muslim skin to become a Jewish state.
Now, 17 years later, Richard was witnessing the birth of his son, born at 6.30 a.m. on 2 August and weighing in at 9 pounds (4 kilograms). To Richard, that morning on the banks of the Jordan seemed a lifetime ago and he felt blessed with both luck and good fortune knowing that this boy, like the three stepchildren he shared with his wife, Beverley, would never have to live through a childhood like his own.
Richard Hockey never knew his father, Hagop (Joseph) Hockeduney, a man whose life and death was shrouded with mysteries that still remain unresolved three generations later. It has been established that he was Armenian in origin, born in Syria in 1890 to an Armenian immigrant, Jack Hockeduney. These Armenian origins are important to Jack's great-grandson Joe Hockey more than 120 years later.
Armenia is at the heart of an ancient civilisation, one of the first Christian societies, albeit surrounded by Islamic states. Armenian tradition had survived centuries under Ottoman rule but started to disintegrate in the late 19th century. The first of what are widely accepted as massacres happened in the 1890s. At this stage the Hockeduneys left Armenia for Syria and then moved to Egypt, the conditions in Armenia becoming increasingly draconian during World War I when the Turks came to regard all Armenians as the enemy. The Turkish government says the death of up to 1.5 million Armenians was due to a civil war, a view with little acceptance, particularly among the descendants of Hagop Hockeduney. (Today, Joe is regarded by the Australian Armenian community as the torchbearer for its ongoing campaign to have Turkey concede what happened at that time was a massacre.)
Nothing is known of the family's life in Armenia and Richard never had a chance to solve those puzzles because his father walked out the front door of the family home on 3 September 1927, just a few hours after he was born, and never returned. Richard's brother, Jack, was four. No-one, including Hagop's wife, Rose, knew where he went, but his life provides the background for the rich story that envelops the Hockey family history and their eventual journey to Australia.
What is known of Hagop's life, including his espionage activities for the Catholic Church, has been pieced together by his children from grainy letters and family conversations before his wife, Rose, died in 1990. She told her sons their father was an educated man, but offered little in the way of detail about her absent husband. But certainly, Hagop was born in Aleppo in northwest Syria, about 280 kilometres from Damascus. His family moved to Cairo when he was an infant and he was educated at university in Egypt. As a young man, he returned to Aleppo, where he and his family were involved in building a local landmark in the city's Armenian quarter. That building, the Hokeidoon, still stands, but in the years prior to World War I it was a marketplace and hostel for the travellers and traders who moved freely through the countries of the Middle East.
By 1915, Hagop had been recruited by the Vatican on an unknown mission to Jerusalem where the Ottoman Empire, which had stood for centuries, was crumbling under the weight of war. When he returned a year later, the title deeds to the building no longer stood. It was owned by the Armenian Catholic Church. However, after doing his duty and helping the Christian British in their efforts to drive the heathen Ottomans out of Palestine in 1917, Hagop was repaid with the job of deputy district commissioner of a little town in the Negev Desert. The town was called Beersheba (now Be'er Sheva), a name seared on the Australian consciousness as the scene of one of the nation's early military triumphs and a seminal battle in breaking the Turkish line through the Middle East.
Not long before that, in October 1917, a Sydneysider by the name of Granville Ryrie surveyed the desert. As Brigadier-General he was commander of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, his troops charged with attacking the Ottomans if the intended effort by the 4th Light Horse Brigade failed. It didn't, and it's unlikely that Hagop would ever have met Ryrie, but in a wonderful irony that has been recounted in the Hockey family over generations, Richard proudly tells the story of Ryrie's other job as sitting member for North Sydney, the seat now held by his son Joseph. It's hard to conceive that these two men, unknown to each other, would weave such an interesting future tapestry. Hagop would never have imagined that his grandson – the son of the child he left behind on the day he was born – would later become part of the government of a country on the other side of the world. It's just as unlikely that Ryrie, the then member for North Sydney, would ever countenance that his post would eventually be held by the grandson of the Armenian who was charged with helping to administer Beersheba under British rule.
While rebuilding Beersheba, Hagop was also going about building his own life. Family lore has it that he became betrothed to a young woman in Jerusalem in about 1920, before fate again intervened. On a visit to Jerusalem for his imminent wedding, he instead met Rose Andre who was visiting her aunty, and became immediately besotted with her, promptly calling off his engagement. A year later he married Rose, the striking daughter of French Palestinian parents Anthony and Clementine. At age 19, she was already fluent in French, Arabic, Hebrew and Italian and was the willing partner for the able young administrator from Beersheba, where the couple moved. In 1923, Rose returned to her parents' home in the Jerusalem city of Jaffa for the birth of their first son, Jack. By the time Richard was born, the family had moved to Bethlehem, where Hagop was again in the employ of the Catholic Church, a role that would later prove crucial to the family's fortunes as well as its move to Australia.
Central to this was Louis Barlacina, appointed by Rome to be the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem. It was not a popular role, and, as the story goes, chunks of the community were vocal in their opposition to an Italian outsider being chosen over a local person. Hagop was appointed by the Church to find out who was behind the community unrest. The way his family tell it, he was viewed as a spy and people turned on him and his family. Rose never burdened her sons, Richard and Jack, with the details, just as Richard has refused to talk much about the hardship of his own upbringing. The day Richard was born, Hagop left home and was not seen by his family again. Rose later found out that he was hit by a tram the following year in Cairo, yet the mystery of his death is as profound as the mysteries of his life.
The reasons why Hagop left his family has filled the discussion at Hockey dinner tables for years, but back then Rose focused on the task of raising their two young boys. Despite the warm embrace of her family, Jerusalem was suffering under the weight of the Great Depression, and life was tough. As a midwife she would often have no choice but to drag her sons along as her assistants, always protecting them from witnessing the birth of deformed and stillborn children. For the seven years following the disappearance of her husband, Rose and the boys lived with her brother Emmanuel in Jerusalem, where she was an active part of the Catholic community.
As hard as she tried, though, Rose couldn't care for both of her sons. In 1934, Jack was sent to school at De La Salle College in Jerusalem's old city, while Richard was packed up and deposited at the St Pierre de Sion Orphanage in the grounds of the Ratisbonne Monastery. Even though Richard was seven, Rose took a cot along so he would have something familiar to sleep on. For two years Richard lived at the orphanage with few visitors, while Rose advanced her qualifications by studying midwifery at a French hospital in Beirut. It was a desperately lonely time for a little boy, and still now it is hard for Richard to talk about his childhood without breaking down. He remembers that the other boys didn't have parents. That's all. There's no recollection of good times, or tight friendships, or laughs. He knows his mother had no choice either, and is grateful that later he was able to join his brother, Jack, at the De La Salle College, despite school running from 7.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. six days a week, and for four hours each Sunday.
Throughout the 1930s, the tensions that had always been part of life in Jerusalem came further to the fore, particularly as Jews who could escape Europe sought refuge in what they considered to be their promised land. But by wartime, life was easier as immigration stopped. Richard, claiming to be older than his years, joined the British Army at just 15 years of age. He worked in the general staff intelligence area and reached the rank of warrant officer second class by the age of 16. Serving in an intelligence role, despite telling friends and family he worked in the pay clerk's office, a year later Richard threatened to hit a superior officer and was demoted to staff sergeant. It was during Richard's stint in the army that he made a decision that would impact the family's future, changing his surname from Hockeduney to Hockey at the insistence of British peers who hated pronouncing the longer name.
Both brothers also developed an entrepreneurial streak. Jack finished school, studied law and became a judge's associate by day while selling Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs by night. Richard discovered the benefits of the army canteen where he could buy Players No.3 or Churchman's No.1 cigarettes and resell them on the black market at three times what he paid. The brothers also started a business exporting religious artefacts. It involved selling crucifixes and rosary beads blessed by the chief administrator of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to mail-order customers around the world. Their trade and Rose's church activities kept the family in close contact with Patriarch Barlacina, whom their father had served in that covert mission two decades earlier.
As the war ended, tensions rose again in Jerusalem. It became clear that the world was going to support the creation of a Jewish state but its reach was contested and the violent tussle for territory escalated. The Hockeduneys (as they were still known despite the British preference for Hockey) had their home in Julian's Way (now King David Street) in central Jerusalem, close to the administrators of the British mandate. The Irgun, an extreme Zionist group, shocked the world in July 1946 with a bomb attack on the King David Hotel where the British Forces kept their offices. Despite warnings, the hotel was never evacuated in time and the terrorist bomb exploded killing more than 90 people. Richard lost seven friends in a moment from hell. On long days, he can still hear the screams of one of them trapped under the rubble as glass shattered down the street. He raced up the road to see if he could offer a hand and returned to his apartment that day knowing that he could never call Jerusalem home.
Just weeks later, Rose applied for the first time to move her family to Australia but was refused. Rumours were rife about what building would be targeted next, which made peace impossible. Eventually, facing a direct threat, the family packed up, heaving their belongings over a balcony and into a truck, fleeing to Amman, the capital of Jordan. From there, they travelled to Irbid with the help of one of Rose's patients. Richard, Jack and Rose were initially turned down in their application to resettle in Australia. Yet in another irony that means Hagop will always be remembered fondly, it was the connections of Rose's absent husband that helped overturn that decision.
Patriarch Barlacina was surprised one day to see Rose at confession, believing the family had left the country some time earlier. She told him of Australia's refusal of their visa. 'He said he would fix it, and he did,' Richard says now.
On 21 January 1947, Barlacina penned a note to Sir Norman Thomas Gilroy, the first Australian-born Cardinal of the Catholic Church, requesting the family's application be reconsidered and granted. 'I thank Your Excellency for what you will do for these persons,' he wrote. And it worked, the news coming via their uncle Pierre Andre, who had the task of clearing their Jerusalem mailbox to help fill long-distance orders for religious icons. Rose's brother-in-law, John Doughman, journeyed to Irbid to free them from their refuge. Whatever had happened to Hagop, Rose had now benefited from her husband's espionage activities. Their next stop was Beirut, where they sold their furniture, and on 3 September 1948, Richard's 21st birthday, the Dakota DC3 carrying Rose, Richard and Jack finally landed in Darwin. Once they finally arrived in Sydney, one of their first visits was to the home of Cardinal Gilroy to thank him for his help in reaching their new home.
Meanwhile, growing up in Sydney, Beverley Adelle Little enjoyed a life exotic to Richard. She was the only child of Muriel, a wealthy heiress, and Ted, who had played for the Eastern Suburbs Roosters in Sydney back in 1922. Just as Richard's father gave his family a colourful past, it was Beverley's grandmother Rebecca who provided a rich tapestry for her family to weave and pull apart at family functions.
As a milliner at the famous Strand Arcade in Pitt Street, Sydney, Rebecca was a fiercely competitive businesswoman, and she also loved trading shares. In the shadows of the Depression, Rebecca would travel by tram to the Sydney Stock Exchange and at the opening bell, with binoculars in her hand and a representative of JBWere stockbrokers by her side, she would day-trade the market. Each week, the Commercial Banking Company at Chatswood would send a teller to her home in Pymble to collect the dividend cheques. But she wasn't only a share trader. She bought an entire city block in Chatswood, which is now multiple high-rise buildings, as well as a big chunk of the town of Wangi Wangi, where artist William Dobell lived for a time. But two husbands, one with a propensity to gamble, and a dispute over her estate meant very little ended up in her grand-daughter's hands.
Fortunately, Beverley was gifted her father Ted's good looks. Born in Chatswood, she grew up at Bondi Beach and her striking features stood out. Eventually, they caught the eye of the editor of Pix magazine, and Beverley found herself gracing its cover. Modelling was not her parents' career choice for their only daughter, however, and it proved a fleeting liaison. Her father told her she would attract the wrong men, like the sailors who would lob into Sydney. He ordered her to stop. Despite one cover photograph equalling a fortnight's pay from her job as a bank clerk at the Commercial Banking Company, Beverley rejected all future modelling requests.
Excerpted from Hockey by Madonna King. Copyright © 2014 Madonna King. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
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