Veronica Parer raised at the end of the St Kilda pier

Adoption is a beautiful gift, but often there are complicated emotions surrounding it and people tend to either tread carefully around the subject or don’t mention it at all. For those tracing family history this becomes difficult to negotiate unless someone has laid out the facts for others to follow. “Helpful” family members can create confusion by passing on miss-remembered conversations that take on the level of facts for want of other information. We’ve had such a mystery in our family with the daughter of Francis and Mary Parer who lived at the end of St Kilda Pier for over 30 years. Happily in the case of their daughter Veronica someone has laid the facts out in the book titled The Lynch Family A journey through two centuries by Francis William Lynch published in 2000.

OfficeWorksMSP2014_pocket12-0001-Francis Parer and wife at the St Kilda Pier_1902_EDIT.jpg

Francis Parer and Mary Curran

Francis Parer was born Francisco Esteban Juan Parer in Alella, Catalonia, Spain, the second son of Antonio and Josepha Parer. He immigrated to Melbourne in 1888 at the age of 27 to work with his relatives in the Hotel business as a barman.

In 1892 he was living in the London Tavern Hotel on Elizabeth Street, and in 1901 at the Royal Mail Hotel, corner of Bourke and Swanston Street. This hotel, owned by his brother John, that was likely his address at the time of his application for the St Kilda kiosk in 1903.

As with all the Parer’s he was a devote Catholic. His family described him as “a bit funny”, though perhaps eccentric might be a better word – he just thought differently. This can be seen with his cash register patents and other scientific and weather related interests and of course in the manner with which he married.

Mary Ann Curran was born in Clunes, north of Ballarat, in country Victoria to Francis and Annie Curran on the 5th December 1868. She was the eldest of the six children.

Francis and Mary married in a “pretty wedding” at St Augustine’s Church, Maryborough, near Mary’s parents home. They met in interesting circumstances, so interesting it was written about in the papers. Mary had won a prize in a raffle of a babies buggy for a book of tickets she had not sold. Under coercion she was encouraged to pay for the book of tickets and accept the prize. She declined and the buggy was raffled again.

Francis overheard this story while working at the Parer Bros. Cafe and enquired in some detail about the circumstances. He was struck by her noble actions. He immediately sent his desire to meet and marry this young lady. Never having met Francis, Mary and her family decided prudence was best served here and some enquiries were made into Francis status and nature, which he seemed to have passed with flying colours as an engagement and marriage happened shortly thereafter.

Thomas Curran and Sarah Lynch

Sarah Lynch.jpg
Sarah Agnes “Gertrude” Lynch.

Mary Curran’s brother Thomas was born in Clunes on the 17 June 1870. Sarah Lynch was also born in Clunes on the 31 August 1964. At St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne Thomas married Sarah “Gertrude” Lynch. They ended up having six children together, Mary “Minnie” 1896-1839, Margaret Veronica “Vern” 1899-1987, Josphine 1901-1981, Thomas Joseph 1904-1905, Esther Mary 1906-1975 and Angeline Kathleen 1908.

Debbie Gibbs says, “they also fostered two girls. One was my grandmother Christina Lonyon who was born about 1909 in Fitzroy. All of Christina’s records that I’ve been able to find suggest she kept her family name of Lonyon – her mother was Ethel Lonyon. Christina married my grandfather William Albert Kelly on 13 June 1930, my father Raymond Albert Kelly was born on 12 February 1931. My dad was raised by his paternal grandmother and was led to believe that his mother, Christina, abandoned him. I’ve since read a letter that suggests my grandfather and his mother took my father off Christina.

“I don’t think my dad ever knew that his mother Christina was fostered/adopted”, Debbie continues. “He last saw her in the early 1960s, she had remarried in the late 1930s. His one regret before he died was that Christina didn’t know her real family. As far as I am able to determine, my dad was her only child. I have also since read a letter that was from one of Christina’s friends, that was sent to a grandchild of Thomas and Sarah informing them of Christina’s death, she too said that Christina was sad that she didn’t know her real family.”

Francis William Lynch in chapter 6 of his book The Lynch Family A journey through two centuries recounts:

We children, Sarah’s nieces and nephews, called her Aunty Gertie, as did her sisters and brothers. Her marriage certificate shows her as Sarah and I’ve never been able to find out where the name Gertrude came from.

Aunty Gertie and her husband Thomas Curran lived and raised their family at 7 Tribe Street, South Melbourne. They worshipped at the South Melbourne Catholic Church, St Peter and Paul’s. As a child I remember visiting my aunt and uncle with my mother – it was the 1930s Depression, but at the time I didn’t realise we were poor; I thought my aunt’s family was poor. A gas works was nearby and the whole area smelt of gas. Also, all the paint was peeling from the houses. Aunt Gertie was always very kind to me. Her husband had been a butcher and later a clerk. He suffered badly with asthma.

Adopting a niece

Francis knew the story of how Vera came to be adopted by Francis and Mary Ann Parer as well.

My aunt and uncle were good people. Even though they were poor and had a number of children of their own to rear, they fostered two girls. I’m not sure, but the girls could have come from the Convent of the Good Shepherd, Abbotsford, Melbourne. In fact, such was Uncle Thomas and Aunty Gertie’s kindness that they even ‘gave away’ one of their own children. 

This is the story

Mary Ann and Francis were unable to have children so Thomas and Gertie decided to give one of their children to the childless couple.

The child they chose was their second born, Margaret Veronica Curran. However, when their fourth child, Thomas Joseph Curran, died at eleven months of age, they wanted Margaret back. This was not possible because the Parers had by now adopted her. Believe it or not, this did not cause a split in the family. They all remained friends and saw a lot of each other.

They lived at the end of the pier

By 1899 St Kilda pier had attained its full length of 2300 feet complete with an ‘L’ shaped end of 200 feet that enabled the bay excursion paddle steamers to berth alongside. It was finished I n time for the 1901 landing of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York for Australia’s Federation commemoration.

Francis Parer, submitted plans to the local council to transform the tender at the end of the pier into an eatery in the European manner on the 8th October 1903. Permission to build Parer’s vision was granted and the kiosk opened its doors for business in 1904. The Parer’s operated the Edwardian-styled kiosk on a government lease for about 30 years. Though the kiosk at the end of the 457 metre pier officially operated as ‘Austral Refreshment rooms’, it became known to locals as ‘St Kilda Pavilion’ or ‘Parer’s Pavilion’. It helped transform the pier into a recreational pleasure promenade.

Soon after opening ‘Parer’s Pavilion’, Francis decided they would live there as well and at the very latest by 1908, having built a timber extension across half the width of the kiosk to the seaward side. The kiosk offered fish and fruit luncheons without any alcohol whatsoever and on hot days catered for the needs of the beach going crowds.

The St Kilda Advertiser on 30 December 1905 described in an article titled titled ‘The Esplanade at Christmas’ things thus:

Great enjoyment was afforded the many thirsty souls who paid a visit to the Pavilion at the end of the pier. Mr Francis Parer, the popular caterer had evidently foreseen the rise of the mercury and laid himself out to provide the pleasant cooling creature comforts so much in demand on a hot day by picnickers. The fame of the pavilion is growing and justly so, for nowhere can more enjoyable peaceful happiness be secured at St Kilda than by lounging restfully on the broad balcony of this pleasure place.… opening up possibilities only to be equalled in a Continental or American watering place.

Francis was reasonably cunning in his application for the building on the pier as can be seen in his 25 November 1903 proposal, “Mr Parer is willing to pay a reasonable rent for the concession. The object is to provide an observatory for the information of visitors, yachtsmen and others and provision will be made for the distribution of a daily chart of the weather and astronomical memoranda.”  It may even have been the real reason for establishing the kiosk in the first place. Francis being Francis, he assumed something of an unofficial meteorological status by keeping daily charts of the “weather and astronomical memoranda”.

The building remained intact until September 11, 2003, when the St. Kilda Pier Kiosk became the victim of an arson attack and was burnt to the ground.

St Kilda Pier destroyed by fire in 2003

Vern Parer

In April 1921 Vern passed the Pharmacy Board exam, but I’m unaware if she went on to utilise her skills in work.

Margaret Veronica “Vern” Parer born in Richmond married Lawrence Michael Brady on 11 April 1925 at Sacred Hearth Church, St Kilda, Melbourne. They had three children during their marriage, Joan Veronica 1926-1978, Marea Catherine 1927-2015 and Frances Theresa 1929.

Vern died on 7 December 1987 in Andrina Hospital, 360 New Street, Brighton, Melbourne, Australia, at the age of 88, and was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton, Victoria next to her husband Lawrence who predeceased her on the 10 October 1960.

Veronica Curran Paarer Headstone

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