The family history and photobiography of
Fernando and Maria Fernanda
de Menezes Ribeiro
A tecnologia, educação e a experiência da vida estão constantemente a mudar e portanto toda a geração é diferente daquela que veio antes. Mas enquanto os filhos crescerem e até serem adultos, os pais serão sempre pais.
When my wife first suggested we write the story of her parents, Fernando and Maria Fernanda, they happily agreed – but they envisaged something basic and short around their own lives, with a few photos, that could be handed out to the rest of the family. However, they did not allow for my interest in family history and enthusiasm for the project. So they have watched with trepidation, and I suspect impatience, as it has grown in scope and evolved into a proper book. During its writing they have endured being interviewed, being asked and sometimes re-asked innumerable questions, and sorting through hundreds of photographs. But this book could not have been written without their close involvement – so I thank them for their help, their tolerance and their patience.
The other person who must be thanked is Maggie. It was her idea initially, and she got it started by arranging for Brendan O'Keefe to interview them and record their oral histories. More than that, however, as well as providing her own memories and family knowledge, Maggie has kept me to the task when I got distracted, controlled my urges to 'just add something more', typed the numerous drafts, and worked with me to put it all together. Quite simply, without her help, encouragement and support, this would never have been finished.
Despite all of the help from Maggie, Fernando and Maria Fernanda, responsibility for the research, interpretation of the facts and the documentation of events is mine.
This is my first book, and my respect for authors of family histories has gone up enormously. While my research was hampered somewhat by the practicalities of tracing records in a language I do not speak, held in both Macau and Portugal, I realise how much patience, persistence and scepticism is needed to track down and verify historical family details. Nevertheless, it is as well researched as I could do.
Within the book itself I have tried to be objective and not to influence the telling of the story with my own views of Mãe and Pai. I do not feel that constraint here.
I simply cannot imagine their initial reaction when Maggie brought this shy, awkward and unsophisticated Australian boy from Goulburn for them to meet. I am sure that I was not what they had envisaged as her future husband.
However, they welcomed me into the family without hesitation, and I have always felt fully part of it. Over the years I have enjoyed many wonderful times with them, and we have become very close. I can truly say that my relationship with them has both enriched my life and made me a better person. They are two very special people and it has been a privilege to document their lives. I only hope I have done them justice.
Macau today is a special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, covering an area of only 22 square kilometres including the islands of Taipa and Coloane, and with a population of about 450,000 (95% Chinese). But for more than 400 years up until 1999, it was a small Portuguese enclave in Asia, moulded uniquely by the intermingling of the two cultures (Portuguese and Chinese). Its historic status as an outpost of European settlement and trade in China, and its air of isolation, gave it a special character and cultural identity.
A Historical Perspective
The history books tell us that there have been Portuguese in Macau since somewhere around 1555. In its early days it can best be described as a Portuguese 'frontier town', host to merchants and adventurers, including clerics who, in addition to their missionary roles, often filled one or both of the other roles as well.
It was a mutually convenient arrangement, with Portugal having a foothold in China, China being able to control and limit access to it through Macau, and the Jesuits using Macau as the base for all of its Asian activities, from Japan to India. Over the next 300 years, Macau had a chequered but constant role as a frontier trading post, with its fingers in many activities which were then legal and 'normal', but today entirely frowned upon, including slavery and the opium trade. But there were always Portuguese there, and their descendents maintained a cohesive community. Thus both Fernando and Maria Fernanda can trace their Macanese roots back to the 1700s – Tomas Vieira Ribeiro born about 1707 for Fernando, and Joaquim da Silva born in the 1770s for Fernanda.
For much of its first 300 years, although Macau was emerging as a Portuguese colonial settlement with a European-Christian identity, it remained a tiny settlement and it was a long way from Portugal's western European power base. While it retained its political allegiance to Portugal and its ships and guns were superior to those of China at the time, it was clear that at any time China could have reclaimed the settlement. Macau-Chinese relations are recorded as having been occasionally tense but never violent, and contrasted to that of Hong Kong and its related Sino-British conflict. (A distinction that was also reflected over 100 years later in the fundamentally different handover processes in 1997 (Hong Kong) and 1999 (Macau).)
In 1845 Macau was declared a free port, and in 1887 a Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed between Portugal and China, combining the two islands Coloane and Taipa with the peninsular city to become an overseas province of mainland Portugal.
Macau at that stage was – as it still is – a predominantly Chinese community, but then with a mixed population of Cantonese, Portuguese, Macanese, Negroes and Indians, along with a small number of government officials and clerics on postings from Portugal. At the beginning of the 19th century, Macau's Portuguese population – which included many of mixed race, including Portuguese/Chinese, Portuguese/Indian, and Portuguese/ Japanese – numbered almost 4,000. There were 7,000 Chinese, and a large number of foreigners – including British working for the famous British East India Company which established its headquarters in Macau (in what was Casa Garden, built in 1770, converted to Camoes Museum in 1855, and now is the headquarters of Fundação Oriente – see later for the role of the Fundação) – engaged in trading tea and opium.
In 1841 an event of tremendous significance for Macau, and for our story, occurred – the British were ceded the city/state colony of Hong Kong as a result of its victory in the Opium War with China. To be for England what Macau was for Portugal, initially its impact was terrible for Macau, as the British moved – with their trade – to Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong harbour was far larger and more safe than that of Macau. Macau went into a 50-year decline. However, the establishment of Hong Kong as an outpost of a European nation occurred at a much later time than Macau, not only in calendar years, but in the development of civil administration. Moreover, Britain prided itself in its colonial administrations, and it quickly set up the institutions and services for which Victorian England was well known. Furthermore, the Portuguese had also been active on the Hong Kong island since the 16th century, and relations between the two closely located city/states were close. So the lessons for the less advanced Macau Administration were there to be learned. Although Hong Kong quickly gained the ascendancy as the centre of trading, its very success ensured the growth of trade generally, and gave a measure of stability – if perhaps impoverished stability – to Macau.
By coincidence, in 1844 (i.e. about the same time as the development of British administrative structures in Hong Kong) the Portuguese Administration of Macau moved from Goa to Macau itself. Thus the civil administration was able to develop structures more appropriate to its needs. All throughout this period, the Jesuits maintained Macau as the centre of their missionary activities, and with the relative stability and 'normalisation' of trading, diplomacy and access between China and the rest of the world as a result of the opium war, they were able to pursue their missionary activities more vigorously. Again this was to be of significance to our story.
As has been said, our two families trace their history in Macau back to its early Portuguese community, but this is primarily the story of Maria Fernanda and Fernando – not so much their family history – so I have restricted the focus on their ancestors to those who directly influenced their lives.
It is at this point in history that the first of these – Bernardino de Senna Fernandes – emerges on the scene.
Despite worldwide progress in transport, communication and medicine, life was difficult and challenging during this period – even for the affluent Macanese. The colony was struck by cholera epidemics in 1862 and 1888, while telegraphic links to the rest of the world did not come until the 1880s, and even a local telephone service did not commence until 1885. Taipa Island continued to be a major pirate strong hold until 1886, threatening the maritime commerce that was the lifeblood of Macau. Yet reports of the views of Senna Fernandes and his compatriots of the time reflect an optimism and a determination to lead Macau out of the decline it was in.
But before we tell his fascinating story, let us continue to set the historical scene by jumping forward to Macau in the 1920s – the Macau in which Fernando and Maria Fernanda grew up in. By then it was much less of a frontier town in character and facilities. Its peculiar blend of oriental and Western influences gave Macau an air of romance and nostalgia, yet at that time it still had a reputation as a place of smuggling, gambling, prostitution and triad-controlled crime (indeed, the gambling and related prostitution remain evident to this day). It was a fairly typical city of its size for the time – all the necessary basic facilities, but no university or specialist medical services, and few jobs suitable for the children of the wealthy Macanese families, so they were typically sent 'home' to Portugal for their university education (even though in some cases, Portugal had not been home to their family for several generations). Often the children then stayed on in Europe, moved on to be pioneers in other Portuguese colonies (Angola, Mozambique), or settled in countries that were former Portuguese colonies, like Brazil. So the tradition of a Macanese diaspora (people originally living in one place maintaining their culture after they leave) was begun.
For those staying on, Macau was a relatively safe, comfortable existence, with its new source of affluence – gambling – starting to emerge, and to draw to it wealthy Chinese gamblers from both Hong Kong and mainland China. Today it is a rich and vibrant city, growing dramatically on reclaimed land as gambling booms and related tourism expands to complement it.
The Macanese tradition of the diaspora was to directly affect the upbringing of Fernando and, particularly, Maria Fernanda, and it is still alive and well. Today, however, it is maintained by the expatriate Macanese – those living in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia and Portugal itself. Macau itself is rapidly shedding the visible signs of the Portuguese Administration and implementing its integration into China. But due largely to the activities of organisations like the Fundação Oriente and APIM (which are described in chapter 13), interest in the cultural heritage of the Macanese and their contribution to Macau is supported and maintained.
So now, when we look at the lives of Fernando and Maria Fernanda, we know just a little bit about the history that formed their environment.
The Ancestors and Family of
Fernando Alberto de Menezes Ribeiro
Several members of the family of Fernando made important contributions to the development of a more modern, more Europeanised Macau, but none did more than his maternal great-grandfather, Conde (Count) Bernardino de Senna Fernandes I. Although Count Bernardino died in 1893, 29 years before Fernando was born, he was the entrepreneur that created the family's wealth and prestige, and his widow, Ana Teresa, remained a highly influential member of the Macau community after his death. Fernando's father and grandparents died quite young, and it was to Ana Teresa's house that his mother Maria Celeste returned after his father's death in 1924. So in many ways the Count and his family had an important influence on Fernando's upbringing.
Bernardino de Senna Fernandes was born in Macau on 20 May 1815. In a family history interview some years before her death, Fernando's eldest sister, Maria Alice, said that he was of Armenian descent; however, his parents were also born in Macau and their names, and their parents' names, all seem to be traditional Portuguese names, so we cannot be sure. In any event we know nothing of his parents, or of Bernardino's upbringing. It is known that at the age of 32 he was a serving noncommissioned officer (Sergeant 1st Class) in the Provincial Battalion of Macau. He went on, however, to become a very successful business man with widespread connections and a commitment to Macau. Family tradition is that he traded in pure silk and he purchased his own ship to transport it.
Maria Alice recalled that he was also involved in the (then legal) opium trade, but we do not know the source of her belief. We know for sure that he traded astutely and used his wealth wisely, and became one of the wealthiest Macanese in the Territory.
At that time, it was still largely a frontier town, and the wealthy protected themselves and their possessions by employing body guards. The rest of the community was left to fend for, and protect, themselves. Bernardino, however, was impressed by what he saw in nearby Hong Kong, and in 1857 he established Macau's first public police force – a small group of about 10, whom he paid and equipped out of his own funds. Later that year he was to become the first Commandant of the Police Guards. It is also recorded that he was responsible for many successful battles with Chinese pirates pillaging villages near Macau, and that during the second Opium War in 1858, he negotiated the breakdown of an embargo preventing the importation of food into Macau. So it would seem that he was a man of action, and that his military background and understanding was to influence many of his achievements.
He was active in many fields, including representing both Siam (modern Thailand) and Italy as honorary consul. He was President of several philanthropic and charitable institutions, and active in Macau politics. The Senna Fernandes family was one of the '40 leading families' that effectively governed Macau while it was technically being administered from Goa. In addition to his role as Commandant of the Police, he also held the positions of Superintendent of Chinese Migration (a very sensitive and critical position for Macau) and Inspector of Fires. He was also president of the Commission of Santa Casa da Misericórdia (which has been described as what would now be called a Health & Human Services Bureau) and was a founding member of the Association for the Promotion of the Instruction (education) of the Macanese (APIM). (See Pedro Nolasco da Silva, below.) He later wrote a book on Macanese politics of the time (apparently to defend himself against critics).
He was highly decorated by the Portuguese Government, being made first a Baron, then a Viscount, and finally a hereditary Conde (Count) (with the eldest surviving son of the next two generations also entitled to use the title). He was also appointed as a member of the Portuguese King's official household, and awarded honours by both the Siamese and Italian governments.
In association with Pedro Nolasco da Silva (grandfather to Maria Fernanda) he established three European-style schools for the Macanese community, encouraging missionary nuns to come and run them.
He was first married to Antónia Maria de Carvalho in about 1840, but she died without any children being born to the marriage. He married again in 1862 to Ana Teresa Vieira Ribeiro (not related to the family of Fernando's father, who was born in Portugal). Ana Teresa was a fourth-generation Macanese of mixed blood whose known Macanese ancestry goes back to 1706. A strikingly attractive woman, she was strong-willed and intelligent, and ably supported her husband. They went on to have nine children – including, as their fourth child, Maria Bernardina, born in May 1871.
|Count Bernardino died in 1893, and on his death, his eldest son and fifth child, also Bernardino, inherited the title. At the time, Ana Teresa founded a company with the appropriate name of The Widow of Senna Fernandes and Sons, with offices in the family home, at 71 Rua da Praia Grande, specialising in import, export, travel, and insurance. That company continues today, still has its headquarters in the building on the site of their then family home, and is still run by family descendants of the first Count. Later on, a number of the children withdrew from the company, and Ana Teresa's daughter Alina and her husband Fernando Rodrigues became her main support. Today the company is known as F. Rodrigues and Sons. 71 Rua da Praia Grande is now in the central business district, but the façade of the Count's home has been retained for its heritage value, while the rest of the site is taken up by a multistorey office and shop complex – including the offices of F. Rodrigues and Sons.|
Count Bernardino was very popular with the Chinese merchants he traded with, and a group of them commissioned the erection of a full size bronze statue of him in his memory. Originally the statue stood in the grounds of Countess Ana Teresa's property near Jardim da Flora, but after her death the property was sold. To avoid any dispute with the Chinese merchants as to ownership or location, the family smuggled the statue to the home of the third Count. Today it stands in the grounds of the Fundação Oriente Headquarters at Casa Garden.
We will return to Ana Teresa shortly. But first I must introduce Maria Bernardina. As I said, Maria Bernardina was born in 1871, and she married Fernando Celle de Menezes in 1891. Between 1892 and 1903 they had five children, our Fernando's mother Maria Celeste being the second eldest, born in 1893. Maria Bernardina died on 3 November 1903, apparently from complications after the birth of her daughter Bernardina on 26 October 1903.
Her husband Fernando Celle de Menezes was the step-son of a former Governor of Macau. After he finished his three years compulsory Portuguese military service in 1890, he went to Macau where he joined the Department of Public Works as a draughtsman. He was, however, quickly promoted, becoming the Comptroller of Public Works in 1891. He held that position until 1901, when he was appointed Deputy General Treasurer of the Finance Department. When he died in 1921, at the age of 49, he was the Treasurer of the Department and Collector of Public Monies for Macau.
As well as his distinguished public service career, in the year of his death Fernando was a co-founder of Opinião (Opinion), a weekly Macau newspaper. He was also apparently a member of the Portuguese Masonic Lodge, with the nom de plume of 'Robespierre' in the Luiz de Camões Chapter of the Macau branch of the Society.
So it was that both of our Fernando's maternal grandparents had died in Macau before he was born. His grandfather Fernando had married again after Maria Bernardina's death, to Maria Louisa de Sousa e Faro from Cape Verde, but they had no children, and the family did not stay in contact with her after his death.
|We know nothing of the childhood or upbringing of Maria Celeste or her brother and sisters. We can only assume that they grew up in the manner of the time for children of a wealthy Macanese family – schooled by tutors at home, looked after by servants, and indulged/protected by their lifestyle. We do know that although Maria Celeste never attended a school, she had immaculate handwriting and spoke 'pure' Portuguese in a way that reflected a thorough education. Then, as they grew up, there would have been the lavish parties and balls so popular at the time. Indeed it may well have been at such a function that, in 1909, 17-year-old Maria Celeste met a young naval lieutenant who had just been posted to Macau from Portugal.|
|Alberto Teófilo Picard Ribeiro was born in September 1885 in Lisbon. His father, Domingos Coelho Ribeiro, was the son of a farmer from Viana do Castelo who had been disowned by the family when he chose to follow a career other than farming. In Carcavelos, Domingos met and married Marguerite Picard, the daughter of a French railway engineer who had been brought to Portugal to help establish Portugal's first railway. Domingos and Marguerite lived in a cottage on the same block of land as her father, Alphonse Picard, just near the railway station in Carcavelos. (As an aside, after Alphonse's death, Marguerite's mother was to marry twice more – the second time to Raymond Bonheur, father of Rosa and Isidor Bonheur, the gifted French artists and bronze sculptors. Marguerite and her mother stayed in contact and she was the source of the numerous Bonheur bronzes and sketches owned by Fernando and his two sisters.) Domingos was a teacher and tutored children in the house.|
|Alberto and Maria Celeste were married in the Sé Cathedral, Macau on 3 September 1911. Following the birth of their first daughter, Maria Alice, in 1912, they returned to Carcavelos, where Maria Helena was born in 1915. In 1918, Alberto was appointed Harbour Master for Macau and the family returned for two years. He was then posted to Washington as Portuguese Naval Attaché. There he fell ill and was diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis, so the posting was terminated. The family then returned to Carcavelos – Maria Celeste now pregnant with our Fernando. Alberto was treated in a sanatorium, first in Lucerne, Switzerland and then in Caramulo, Portugal. Fernando was born on 3 March 1922, and his father died on 7 June 1924.|
Maria Alice and Maria Helena were old enough to remember their father and the Picards they lived with. They were initially educated by their grandfather, and Maria Alice stayed in contact with the Picard family after the family moved back to Macau. She is the source of the limited knowledge of the family and of the photographs we have. However, Fernando never really knew his father, and has no recollection of his paternal grandparents.
Two years after her husband's death, Maria Celeste decided to return to Macau; however, by then her own parents had died, so she returned to live with her grandmother, Ana Teresa, in the mansion on Praia Grande that was both her home and her office. Although she was only tiny, Maria Celeste was feisty and brooked no nonsense. Indeed although he was at pains to put it in the context of the times and to explain that they were devoted to her, Fernando recalled that the servants sometimes called her 'two-slap mamma' behind her back, because of what would happened if they were late with her rickshaw or otherwise stepped out of line.
After Count Senna Fernandes' death, Ana Teresa had become highly influential in Macau, as well as maintaining the family wealth and business enterprises. Maria Alice could remember the doormen taking Chinese merchants and dignitaries up to visit her great-grandmother, and how it was that the Governor and the Bishop would come to her, rather than the other way round.
The Senna Fenandes' house at 71 Rua da Praia Grande had ample room to accommodate them, and they were given three rooms – one for Maria Celeste, one for Maria Alice and Maria Helena, and one shared by Fernando and his Amah. Also living in the house in an upstairs attic was another cousin of Maria Celeste, Anita de Senna Fernandes d'Assumpção. That part of the house was said to be haunted, and Fernando tells of experiencing one inexplicable incident when they were all woken in the night by the sound of shattering crockery in the kitchen. He, his sisters and the amah ran to Maria Celeste's room fearing there were intruders in the house. However, the next morning, the kitchen was untouched and none of the people living elsewhere in the house had heard anything.
Maria Celeste and her children lived with Ana Teresa until her death in 1929. Thereafter they rented a house on the Praia Grande while she built the permanent family home at 22 Avenida da República, where she lived until 1952.
It would appear that, partly helped by poor investment advice from her son-in-law, Pedro, Maria Celeste did not manage her investments all that well, and it became difficult to maintain a large house and servants just for herself. So in 1952, Maria Celeste left Macau and, with her sister Maria Amélia and her family, migrated to Australia, where the two of them went into partnership to open a laundrette in Alison Road, Randwick in Sydney. However, Maria Celeste did not adapt to living in Australia very well, and in 1954 she returned to Portugal, where she rented an apartment at Parede, near where her daughter Maria Helena lived. She lived there until she died in 1980, aged 87. Known to all the family as 'Avó', she visited Australia several times after Fernando moved to Canberra, including for Margarida's wedding in 1967 (where, at 74, she single-handedly cooked many of the Portuguese delicacies that were served at the reception.) She remained active and healthy right up to her death, still climbing a ladder to an 'in-roof' pantry at 84.
Although it is primarily Fernando's heritage we have been tracing, he was very close to his sisters, so it is convenient here to relate their lives to his story.
Fernando's elder sister, Maria Alice, married José Nolasco da Silva in Macau on 29 December 1929, aged just 17 (José being Maria Fernanda's first cousin). He was a stockbroker and investment adviser. In 1950 José, Maria Alice and their son Manuel moved to Australia, settling in Milford Street, Randwick. In nearby Avoca Street, they established a boarding house for single men, which they operated for a number of years, while José became investment adviser to other former Hong Kong residents in Sydney. He died in 1967. By then they had moved to 10 Arthur Street, Randwick, and Maria Alice continued to live there for many years, and then moved with her sister Maria Helena to a smaller house in nearby Ainslie Street, Kingsford. In 2002 she went into a nursing home due to failing health, and she died on 26 June 2003. Manuel worked for Qantas for many years, but in his youth he had been a successful tennis player, and he left Qantas to establish an equally successful tennis coaching business that continues today. Although he was briefly married, he has no children.
Maria Alice and her brother were very close, and both families were close to their cousin, Lourdes Bayot and her family. So in the early days of their life in Australia, the Ribeiros travelled frequently to Sydney (especially when their eldest daughter Margarida moved to study nursing at Hornsby Hospital in Sydney), and the early family Christmases were all spent at 10 Arthur Street – major events of 20 to 30 people, with several mah-jong and card tables going at once in several rooms, and masses of food on tables. (It was at one of those Christmas gatherings that Margarida introduced me to her extended family, and for an Australian boy from a small family, it was an amazing experience that I still clearly remember – not least for the money I lost at cards to her merciless cousins!)
Later, as the Ribeiro family children married and settled in Canberra, the venue for Christmas moved to Canberra, and Maria Alice (and later Maria Helena) came down every year for as long as she was able.
Maria Helena married a Macau lawyer (who later became a Hong Kong antique dealer), Pedro Lobato, in April 1940. The marriage did not last and they were divorced. Maria Helena decided to return to Portugal, and in 1951 sailed for Europe. On the voyage, she became friendly with one of the ship's officers, Eduardo Moreira Silva Santos, and they were married in Lisbon on 6 March 1952. They lived in Parede, where Maria Helena went to work for Ford Lusitana (Ford Motors), and for many years she was the personal secretary to the managing director. In 1954 her mother had moved nearby, also in Parede, and they stayed in very close contact until Maria Celeste's death in May 1980. Eduardo had died in January 1980, they had had no children, and she had no near relatives left in Portugal, so in August 1981 (18 months after his death) Maria Helena decided to move to Australia, where she lived in Sydney with Maria Alice. At the time of Maria Alice's death, Maria Helena was also becoming frail, and she moved to Canberra to be near Fernando and his family, living initially in an aged care home for the independent, and then in an aged care hostel. She died on 25 October 2004 at age 89.
With neither his sister Maria Helena nor his nephew Manuel having children, the stories and traditions of his ancestry are left, therefore, to Fernando's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The Ancestors and Family of
Maria Fernanda Nolasco da Silva
Just like Fernando, Maria Fernanda's ancestry in Macau stretches back to its early days – and it would have to be assumed that in a small Portuguese enclave like Macau, in the early 1800s one Pedro Nolasco da Silva would have known a Vicente José Fernandes, the father of Count Bernardino de Senna Fernandes – but as with Fernando, I have focused on those who directly influenced her. And in this case, the first of them was her grandfather, the second Pedro Nolasco da Silva. Pedro was born in Macau on 6 May 1842, and named after his father Pedro Nolasco da Silva (whom I shall call Pedro senior), who was married to Severina Angélica Baptista. Pedro senior was born on 31 January 1803 in Macau, the son of Joaquim da Silva and Antónia Maria da Silva Aires. He was a successful businessman, supplying and owning sailing ships trading between Macau, Timor and Goa. We suspect, but cannot be sure, that he supplied the trading ship of Bernardino de Senna Fernandes.
His third son, Pedro, was a brilliant linguist, and was to become the first head of the Department of Sino-Portuguese languages in Macau. He wrote books and dictionaries on the Chinese language for the use of Portuguese and English language speaking people. Maria Fernanda remembers that in addition to Mandarin and Cantonese, he spoke three other Chinese dialects – so well that he would translate for Chinese merchants from different areas when negotiating with each other.
Yet at the age of 14 he could neither read nor write. However, recognising his potential, his mother enrolled him in the one of the leading Macau colleges – the Colégio de São José – but, while still a student, he was engaged as an interpreter by the Macau Department of Chinese Affairs. At the age of 24, he sought new challenges, moving to Hong Kong where he became one of the first correspondents for the Hong Kong Daily Press.
Pedro suffered from diabetes and, when he then contracted malaria in Hong Kong, he decided to return to the Department of Chinese Affairs in Macau. In 1868, after his return to Macau, he married an Englishwoman, Edith Maria Angier. Edith's father, Frederick John Angier, was a newspaper proprietor in Hong Kong, so it is possible that he knew Pedro, but Edith was not brought up by her father, so we do not know. In Macau Pedro was very friendly with Bernardino de Senna Fernandes, and they worked together on many major activities.
One of those arose in 1870, when the Portuguese Government ordered the expulsion of all foreign teachers from Portuguese schools – including in Macau. This had a huge impact on Macau, and, as one response, in September 1871 a group of 19 wealthy and influential Macanese got together and decided to establish a body to promote the commercial education of the Macanese. So was born APIM. Both Pedro and Bernardino were members of that group, and Pedro worked so tirelessly to establish a school to achieve APIM's aims that, when it was opened, it was called the Escola Comercial Pedro Nolasco and he was appointed its first Director. 150 years later, the school and APIM continue on today – the school is now known simply as Escola Portuguesa, and APIM undertakes a range of cultural and educational activities, and is a major contributor to the Encontros we shall talk about later.
Pedro was also the driving force behind the establishment of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia, of which Bernardino became the commissioner, and the Asilo dos Orfãos (orphanage) in Macau. He, too, was active in politics and went on to be elected as Vice President and then President of the Leal Senado (the equivalent of the city council).
|Throughout all of this, he remained working with the Department of Chinese Affairs, being retired in 1892 at the age of 50 (on the grounds that the health authorities deemed him incapable of doing any work!). Clearly, Pedro did not share that view, and three years later, in 1895, he established the Farmácia Popular pharmacy in the square in front of the Leal Senado – and again that is still operating today.|
His linguistic skills were such that Pedro was appointed Interpreter Secretary to the Portuguese Minister in Peking, to assist in the negotiation of the Portuguese-Chinese Treaty of 1887, which guaranteed the independence of Macau. He wrote several books, including the Manual de Lingua Sínica (Manual of the Chinese Language). The list of his achievements goes on, but I think what we have said illustrates his stature and contribution to Macau. He was made a Knight of The Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ by the Portuguese Government.
In his private life Pedro Nolasco da Silva was a profoundly religious man, with a deep knowledge of philosophy and theology.
Despite his success in commercial and public life, it was Pedro's ambition to leave as his legacy to his family, not wealth but an education in the fullest and broadest sense of the word. While his 10 children were young, he tutored them all personally, and several were then sent to university in Portugal. It is said that he died happy in the knowledge that all of his children achieved his aim.
He died in 1912 at the age of 70, still teaching at the Macau Liceu (high school) until shortly before his death. He was, truly, an inspirational person.
|Large families were a feature of the Nolasco family – as I have said, Pedro had 10 children. His eldest son, Porfirio had 10 children, and his seventh son, Luiz, had 10 children – the ninth of whom was Maria Fernanda. A Study by Father Manuel Teixeira in 1951 records that, by that time, the surviving direct descendants of Pedro numbered 142, living in seven countries across the world (Portugal, Canada, Brazil, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Macau). In 2001, Maria Fernanda and Fernando attended a reunion of the family in Lisbon at which over 200 descendants were present (see below).|
|Luiz Nolasco da Silva was born on 14 December 1881, and grew up in Macau. When he finished high school, his father sent him to Coimbra in Portugal to study law. After his graduation he returned to Macau to practise law, and in 1906 he married Beatriz Bontein da Rosa. Beatriz was of mixed Portuguese/Macanese/Indian/British parentage, the daughter of a major in the Portuguese army who had been posted in Macau. Her mother (Francisca Bontein da Rosa) was, in turn, the daughter of an Anglo-Indian born in Bengal and a Macanese mother – all adding to the complex mixture of racial origin of the Ribeiro children. (The same thing applied to Maria Fernanda's maternal great grandmother who was apparently of Goanese origins.)|
Luiz's law practice prospered, and as Maria Fernanda remembers it, this included becoming the main legal adviser to the Catholic Church in Macau – a very influential and important role – and she says that at the time he was the most prominent lawyer in Macau. When his father died in 1912, Luiz took on the position that Pedro had still held on the board of the Escola Comercial Pedro Nolasco.
Luiz followed in the family educational tradition but took it a step further, and he decided that when all of his children left primary school, he would send them to Portugal to finish their education. By this time, his older brother (José) lived in Lisbon, so they stayed with him. They chose a variety of careers, and Maria Fernanda's brothers and sisters included two doctors, a lawyer, an electrical engineer, a public service economist, an agronomist, a language teacher and a gymnast/physical education teacher! However, most met their future spouses in Europe, and were to return to Macau only to introduce them to the family. Over the ensuing years they were to spread across the world, settling in Portugal, Canada, Angola, Mozambique, with only Beatriz and Gustavo settling in Macau (and even each of them later retired to Portugal).
Maria Fernanda was born on 16 November 1924, the ninth child of Luiz and Beatriz. As the ninth child, 17 years younger than her eldest brother, Maria Fernanda never even knew four of her elder brothers until they returned home from their university education as adults. As a result, she did not develop the close family bonds with them that Fernando did with his sisters.
World War II intervened, and Maria Fernanda was unable to follow the family tradition and finish her studies in Portugal; however, from her perspective, this was no great loss. By her own description, she was a lazy student at school and did only what was necessary to pass. She had, too, by that time already decided who she wanted to marry, a Macau boy. So study in Portugal was never high on her personal agenda. When she completed her college education she told her father she wanted to be a nurse – at that time in Macau a profession totally consisting of Chinese girls, and it would have been unheard of for the daughter of such a prominent Macanese family to take it up (which is why Fernando thinks that she wanted to do it – to provoke her father). As a result, she and her younger sister Edith stayed at home after they completed their college education, and were home tutored in English.
It meant, though, that she spent much more time with her parents, and so, for better or for worse, they had a greater influence on her life. However, again in her own words, that influence was not as great as you might expect. Maria Fernanda describes her father as a very hard-working and serious man, strict and without much of a sense of humour. However, both she and Fernando remember him as very generous, and it seemed to her that, following in his own father's footsteps, his main aim in life as a father was to give a very good education to his children. In this regard, she recalls how he insisted that the family only learn and speak 'pure' Portuguese (not the Macanese patois), and encouraged them to chose friends amongst those who did the same.
By contrast, Maria Fernanda describes her mother as a very fun loving, lively and sociable person, who spent a lot of her time playing mah-jong and engaged in other social activities. As a result, she says that, in very many ways, it was left to the servants to bring them up. Indeed, despite going to primary school at the nearby Santa Rosa de Lima, a Franciscan nuns' convent, at the young age of eight or nine she was enrolled as a boarder at the school. This apparently did not last all that long, as a clash occurred between the nuns and her father over allowing her home on a weekday for her birthday. The nuns and her father were both unrelenting, and Maria Fernanda ended up being taken out of boarding school to become a day student. Although she loved her parents, they were not a close family in a personal sense, and she did not see her parents as role models, confidants or people to turn to for advice on the normal problems of growing up. In that sense, she says both she and Fernando essentially grew up on their own merits, making their own way and forming their own views.
However, that does not mean – and she does not intend it to mean – that she had in any way an unhappy childhood. As we will see in the next chapter, it was in many ways an idyllic and very happy childhood.
After completing her primary schooling at Santa Rosa de Lima, in 1937 Maria Fernanda went on to the Liceu Infante D. Henrique (where Fernando was already a student), where she completed her secondary education in 1944 – just one year before she was to marry. As indicated above, on leaving school, Maria Fernanda wanted to become a nurse, and when that did not eventuate, she stayed home, studying English with her sister, using a home tutor. Before that, Maria Fernanda explains, while she already spoke English, it was based on contact with the British in Hong Kong and on going to pre-war American movies, not formally learnt.
By the time Maria Fernanda left Hong Kong in 1963, her parents had already passed away, and all of her brothers and sisters had moved away from Macau, so she did not stay as closely in touch with them as Fernando did with his sisters. Beatriz – who was the closest to Maria Fernanda of her brothers and sisters – died in 1996, and only her brother Rui, living now in Beatriz' former house in Portugal, survives. (By way of a postscript to the family links to the Escola Comercial Pedro Nolasco, before she left Macau, Beatriz, who was a school teacher, went on to become its Principal.)
In a visit to Portugal in 1975, with Fernando and Maria Fernanda, we stayed with Beatriz and also with Maria Fernanda's brother Gustavo. At different times since then Maria Fernanda and Fernando have visited (and been visited by) various of her cousins, nieces and nephews, and/or their children, living in Canada and Portugal.
Maria Fernanda's last major gathering with her family was the Nolasco da Silva family reunion in January 2001. The reunion was held in the Parque das Nações (Park of Nations), built for Expo 98. Family members travelled from Brazil, Australia, Canada, the UK and Macau. In all 250 people gathered, including 58 of the direct descendants of Luiz Nolasco da Silva. Maria Fernanda saw her brother Rui there, as well as catching up with many of the older cousins she had written to over the years, and meeting younger members of their families. There was a special church service followed by a big lunch of traditional Macanese food. For both Maria Fernanda and Fernando it was a wonderful experience, and they recall spending hours talking to members of the family and exchanging stories about their lives and families.
4 Growing Up in Macau
Fernando and Maria Fernanda grew up in a very similar way – in the style of children of wealthy Portuguese families in Macau. Thus they lived in grand houses, they had amahs to look after them, lavish parties were thrown for their birthdays, and they wanted nothing in the way of clothing, toys or special treats.
They recall that their families were so well known in the town that as young children they would go into shops for lollies or whatever and just be given them, with the shop keeper later being paid by the family. Every year in summer, their families would have bamboo shacks built on the shore of the outer harbour of Macau, where the families would spent the afternoons playing mah-jong, cards, etc.;\
|Fernanda spent her early years living in Casa Branca (White House) – a big house built for the big family of a wealthy lawyer. This involved accommodating not only Luiz and Beatriz and their 10 children, but the seven servants needed to run the household, as well as the other servants that came in during the day. Fernanda recalls that, in its heyday, the family had one amah for each of the children still at home, a cook, assistant cook and kitchen hand, a boy to serve the meals, a chauffeur, and a gardener. (She also recalls that, before her father bought his first car, he went to and from work in a rickshaw. He was a big man and the driveway to Casa Branca was quite steep, so that when he got home, a second rickshaw coolie would be engaged to push from the back as they went up the hill.)|
Indeed the house was so big that, in 1930, when the Chinese revolution was destabilising the nearby mainland region, Luiz rented the home out to become a school for refugees from the conflict, and it was used for that purpose for several years until the countryside settled down and the students could return home. Again in 1938, the Chun Lei Kei Ning School for refugees from the Sino-Japanese war was established in temporary huts in the grounds of the house, where it operated until 1941.
As described above, Ana Teresa's house at Praia Grande was similarly opulent, and while the house at Avenida da Republica was more modest, it was still very comfortable for Maria Celeste and her three children, and needed a number of servants to maintain.
It has been described as a very elegant, relaxed lifestyle. Yet as I have said, both Fernando and Maria Fernanda grew up loved by, but largely isolated from, their parents. They were looked after by the servants, and they were very self sufficient emotionally. When I asked, neither of them saw any specific members of their families as role models who they looked up to and wanted to emulate. Both talked about their mothers in terms of their interest in Mah-jong and social activities. Fernando's father had, of course, died when he was very young, but Maria Fernanda's father was a very busy lawyer, and she did not recall him as a major influence in her life. It is clear, too, that from a relatively early age they also had their own interests and pursued them with their friends rather than with family.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this was that both Fernando and Maria Fernanda were the youngest in their families. Whatever the reason, it is clear that their childhoods were happy, and they emerged as mature, sophisticated and well adjusted young adults.
That is not to say that they were in any way boring or dull. From an early age it is clear that Maria Fernanda, in particular, was feisty and mischievous. When asked about the significant achievements of her early life, Maria Fernanda told two stories.
One was how she was given detention at school for riding past a nun on a pushbike and pulling the nun's head scarf from her head – to reveal a shaven scalp underneath.
The second related to receiving a call to get the chauffeur to go and collect her sister-in-law at her house. Aged 12 at the time, Maria Fernanda could not find the chauffeur, so she got in her mother's car and drove down to pick her up. Along the way she was seen by the Commissioner of Police – who, of course, knew her – and he turned and followed. She arrived at her sister-in-law's house, ran in and told her what was happening. By the time the Commissioner arrived, her sister-in-law was sitting in the car with the engine running. The Commissioner 'accepted' the explanation that she was the one driving, but then reprimanded Maria Fernanda and told her not to do it again.
When I first met Maria Fernanda in 1966, I remember that one of my first impressions was that she would always encourage me and others to do mildly outrageous things, like ride motor scooters in the backyard. Even today, Maria Fernanda will get a twinkle in her eye as she urges someone to get up to some form of mischief.
For Fernando, it was in sport that he found his interests and displayed his personality. It is apparent that, from an early age, he showed an aptitude for racquet sports. Living next door to tennis courts, it was only natural that he would want to play – particularly as older sister Lena was displaying promise as a player (and went on to become Macau women's champion for a number of years).
So, from about age of nine or 10, Fernando began hitting balls with friends. He had no formal lessons, and tennis was not a school sport – interestingly, in those days tennis in Macau was perceived to be a rich person's sport, as racquets and balls were expensive, and in order to play on their courts, you had to join one of the Macau sporting clubs. Fernando joined Tenis Civil and went on to be Macau high school doubles champion partnered by José (Zeca) da Silva – the half-brother of Carlos da Silva, who was to become Maria Fernanda's brother-in-law – who later went on to become the tennis singles champion of Portugal. As Fernando became older and more experienced, he represented Macau against Hong Kong in the regular Interport sporting competitions between the two city/states.
Shortly after he began playing tennis, Fernando also became interested in badminton, and he quickly displayed the same natural ability, to the extent that by age 12 he was already playing in tournaments and in school representative teams. He has press clippings dating back to 1934 recording his progress – again playing with Zeca da Silva as partner in the doubles.
The fields and the nature of the competition in the two sports are too different to be sure, but the impression is that, despite his lifelong success in tennis, in his youth, Fernando was probably an even better badminton player than he was a tennis player. In any event, he continued to play both sports with great success and enthusiasm up until (and well after) he left Macau.
During the war years he was approached by his cousin Conde Bernardino de Senna Fernandes III ('Ber' to the family), to organise badminton tournaments for the residents and refugees in Macau. Ber was the president of the Melco Club (sponsored by Macau Electric Light Company – MELCO), the only recreation club whose premises were not taken over by the Macau government to house refugees. The Melco Club played an important role in providing recreation opportunities for the refugees and the locals during the war years.
Fernando was able to import the badminton equipment in through the upstairs tenant in his mother's house. The tenant was Fu Yam Chiu – wealthy son of Macau's first casino operator, and later head of the Furama hotel chain. Fu had played badminton with Fernando, and Fernando and Maria Fernanda remained friends with the family, and to this day they exchange Christmas cards with his widow. Fu was able to use his family gambling connections to travel freely between Macau and Hong Kong throughout the war, and he was able to bring the equipment back with him. So a number of successful tournaments were organised.
Apart from his racquet sports, Fernando was also an avid shooter and a member of the Macau Skeet Shooting Club for a number of years. Although he did not have the same competitive success, he enjoyed it very much. He owned a number of shotguns – 12-gauge, 16-gauge and 20-gauge – as well as a .22 rifle, and a Smith & Wesson target pistol.
In addition to target and clay pigeon shooting, the Club went on numerous hunting trips into China, which were apparently great family affairs. The group would travel in a convoy to the border, where they would hire Chinese licence plates to hang on the car, and then head to a local village. Children from the village would be hired as beaters, and they would hang off the side of the cars as they went to the hunting ground. The women would then set up a picnic, while the local children went behind the stands of bamboo to frighten the partridges and pigeons out into the path of the men's guns. The bag was later taken home to be cooked by the family cook. Fernando later brought his guns to Australia, but did not follow through with target shooting as a sport. In 2005, when on a holiday on Hamilton Island, Fernando tried his skill again at a local rifle range, and was very proud that he had not lost it.
Apart from sport, the other recreational passion of Fernando's life has been photography. While he did not start organising the results into albums until he came to Australia, from a very early age Fernando was an avid photographer, first with the universal box Brownie camera, and then into colour slides and movies. He still has the colour slides taken before he was married, but unlike the 8mm and super 8mm films taken then and in Hong Kong, the cost of transferring them onto a more enduring medium has so far been prohibitive. In 2007, all of his movies, including those from his days in Macau, were transferred onto DVD. Those first movies were taken on a Bell & Howell Sportster, which, along with their later pre-war replacements, were brought to Australia and later donated to the Australian Film & Sound Archive. A constant feature of Fernando's photography was the regular upgrading of his equipment as new and better cameras became available – but often the older ones were retained 'just in case'. Today he has 112 albums of photos including 30 recording the trips and holidays he and Maria Fernanda have enjoyed.
Maria Fernanda did not have the same passion for sport that Fernando did. However, as befitted the daughter of a prominent family, when she did take up a sport, she chose fencing, taking lessons from an army sergeant and fencing instructor, and acquitting herself quite well.
Although it did not rate as highly an interest as their other recreational activities, both Fernando and Fernanda had horses, which were kept at the Macau horse race track located next to the Melco Club. Both had riding lessons and riding was one of the many common interests they shared in their youth and courtship. Unfortunately the shortages of meat in Macau during the war led to the end of their horse riding activities (and the horses!), and they never again owned horses.
5 Fernando's Education, Military Service and Early Career in Macau
Fernando did his primary schooling at home by private tuition, with a single tutor for each year but a number of tutors over the years. Not all of his lessons went without incident. Fernando recalls, when he was about nine or 10, there was a day when Macau was struck by a violent storm while he was being taught by a lady tutor. Lightning struck the electric wires leading to the house and a fireball flew down the hall along them. The tutor was, he says, petrified, and he believes they were all lucky to survive.
In 1934 he started high school at the Liceu Infante D. Henrique, completing his high school studies in mid-1941. Fernando describes himself as an average student. Yet he recalls that as well as studying the standard subjects (history, geography, mathematics and science) he also studied Latin, English, literature, philosophy, biology, physical education and choral singing – a heavy load for a young student.
As World War II had commenced in Europe, he could not follow the normal tradition of finishing his education in Portugal, so he went to Hong Kong to study accountancy. This, too, was interrupted by the war, and on 2 December 1941 his mother told him to return to Macau urgently. Six days later Hong Kong was invaded, and the war in the Pacific commenced. Maria Celeste's foresight in getting Fernando out of Hong Kong was not the only example of her astute preparation for the war. It is family folklore that when the war ended four years later, theirs was the only household in Macau that still had toilet paper!
The war made Fernando's transition from education to work a quite disjointed process. On his return to Macau, Fernando worked for a period as a volunteer, distributing ration cards from the St Dominic's church hall to the refugees gathered in Macau. Then in September 1942 he was called up for compulsory military service.
Fernando's military service lasted from September 1942 until the end of 1943. Portugal was, of course, neutral during the war, but nevertheless Macau was surrounded by Japanese-occupied China and its population swollen by refugees from both China and Hong Kong. So it was a tense and difficult time to be a soldier. However, for Fernando, military service was a little different to that of the ordinary soldier. For one thing, his midday meals were delivered to him at the barracks, hot and home cooked, by a servant in a rickshaw from the big house. Moreover, as a member of the upper social class in Macau, it would have been embarrassing for him to be seen standing guard at the Governor's Office – so he would bribe regular soldiers to stand in his place! Nevertheless, he did his duty, and stood guard at the barracks and ammunition dumps where he was out of sight of the Macanese community.
From the end of 1943 to March 1944 he worked briefly at the Macau Electricity Company as a clerk. He then returned to college to complete his education. He studied at the St Luiz Gonzaga College – a college set up by Jesuit priests from Hong Kong who had sought refuge in Macau and there, in September 1944, he completed the equivalent of a college education. Later he would become the president of the College Old Boys' Association in Hong Kong, a position he held for some years.
From March to December 1945 he was a school teacher – teaching Portuguese at the Escola Luso-Chinesa, a government school set up to teach the Portuguese language to Chinese students. According to Fernando, he was not the world's best language teacher, and he claims that he learnt more Cantonese than his students did Portuguese! He also qualified at this time as a Professor (teacher), registered to be a home tutor to both primary and secondary children. Then, in May 1946, he joined his grandfather's old department, the Serviços de Fazenda (Department of Finance) and commenced his lifelong career as a public servant.
6 The War in Macau
World War II was a period that does great credit to the people and administration of Macau. After the surrender of Hong Kong in 1941, many hundreds of Portuguese refugees fled to Macau, as did thousands of Chinese from both Hong Kong and the occupied parts of mainland China. The population rose from 200,000 to 500,000. It was to the credit of the Territory that it rose to the occasion, welcoming the refugees, and feeding, clothing and accommodating them for the next four years.
It was not done without great sacrifice, as Macau was effectively isolated from the rest of the world, with limited food supplies and other resources. Fernando recalls that rice, fuel and other essential items were rationed, and says that he worked for a few months as a volunteer worker in the St Dominic church hall, which had been taken over as the centre for distributing ration cards.
He also recalls that the winter of 1942 was a very harsh one, causing the deaths of hundreds of the poorer Chinese refugees from mainland China, who lacked the food and shelter to survive the extreme cold. It must have been a heartrending and disturbing thing for a 20-year-old to walk, as he did, to work in the morning and step over the corpses of those who had died in the night. He relates how every day large trucks would comb the streets to pick the bodies up and transfer them for burial in mass graves on Coloane Island.
Equally disturbing is his account of cannibalism occurring amongst the poorest refugees. He recalls how young boys trying to eke out a living as shoe shine boys would disappear overnight, and how some restaurants were prosecuted for using human flesh in the meals they served.
The brutal side of war also impacted on Maria Fernanda. The Japanese Consul in Macau during the war was called Fukui. He was educated at Harvard, very friendly with the Portuguese Administration, and apparently a quite honourable man. According to Maria Fernanda's recollection, this was in contrast to the commanding officer of the Japanese garrison outside Macau – Colonel Sarva – who was reportedly in league with a Chinese smuggler, Wong Kong Kit.
The Consul lived in Calçada do Gaio, near the home where Maria Fernanda lived with her parents. In February 1945, when on a morning walk with his bodyguard, Consul Fukui was gunned down by an unknown assassin. Maria Fernanda was on the veranda of her room at the time overlooking the street, and she heard the shooting and looked out to see its aftermath.
While the assassin was never caught and Colonel Sarva blamed agents of the Chinese General Chiang Kai-shek, the local belief was that it was in retaliation for curtailing the criminal activities of Colonel Sarva and Wong Kong Kit.
But if the war was a harsh and brutal reality for Fernando and Maria Fernanda, it had its lighter side. We have talked about the badminton tournaments Fernando organised, but he also recalls the impact of the wealthier refugees from Hong Kong on the social life of Macau. Many of these refugees did not know what the future held for them, so they set out to enjoy themselves in every way they could. There were constant balls and parties, at which Philippino bands (also refugees from Hong Kong) would play. There were thriving nightclubs – many attended by Japanese officers visiting from occupied China. Fernando remembers how they would come into the nightclub, take off their weapons and put them on the table, then take turns to guard them while the rest danced or courted the available women in the club. This was the time when Fernando and Maria Fernanda were courting, and by all accounts they had a wonderful time – protected from, but not unsympathetic to, the hardship all around them.
They were married in the Sé Cathedral on 15 September 1945. It was the first wedding amongst the leading Macanese families after the war, but it was still a relatively low-key affair. Maria Fernanda's sister Edith was bridesmaid, her brother Gustavo best man, and her school friend Artemisa de Lacerda sang the Avé Maria for them in the Cathedral. The 50 guests were mainly extended family, and the reception held at the Casa Branca. Gustavo made the only speech. Yet it was done with style, and the Macau newspaper A Voz de Macau (Macau 's Voice), described it as an 'Elegant Wedding'. Of note was the magnificently decorated wedding cake in the shape of the Guia lighthouse, which dominated the Macau skyline above the Casa Branca.
Also of note was the fact that due to the shortages and restrictions of the war, many of the guests were unable to purchase suitable new items as wedding presents, and so gave crystal and china gifts from their own family collections. Some of those crystal bowls still sit on their magnificent blackwood buffet (also brought out from Hong Kong in 1963)
|After their marriage, Fernando and Maria Fernanda moved into the Casa Branca with Maria Fernanda's parents. One wing of the house was converted into, effectively, a self-contained apartment with its own separate entrance. There they lived until they moved to Hong Kong in 1947. Margarida was born in Macau on 15 July 1946. Despite being the ninth child, Maria Fernanda had married much earlier than her older brothers and sister, and Margarida was the first grandchild for Maria Fernanda's parents. So the whole household fussed around her. By all accounts (and watching Fernando's family films), Margarida was an active and mischievous child, and at the age of 10 she broke her arm when she fell off the garden wall of their Belfran Road home in Kowloon, having chloroform dripped onto a mask on her face held by Maria Fernanda while the doctor set the arm at their home.|
7 The Move to Hong Kong
If the residents of Macau suffered as a result of starvation, shortages and overcrowding caused by the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and the surrounding Chinese mainland, the residents of Hong Kong suffered even more.
In additions to the starvation and shortages (which, like Macau, led to cannibalism and other horrors), the residents of Hong Kong were directly subjected to the brutality of the Japanese occupation and the internment, under prisoner of war camp conditions, of many residents of British and European extraction. (Three survivors of the internment camps – Philippe Yvanovich, Tony Reis and Eddy Noronha – were to become friends of the Ribeiros and later also moved to Australia, where the friendships were resumed.)
More significantly to our story, however, the Japanese occupation regime set about the systematic destruction of the European basis of Hong Kong administration. Describing it as the 'restoration of the government of Asians for Asians by Asians', it sought to eradicate British and American (in effect all European) influence in all aspects of government, including education. All forms of diplomatic relations were handled directly by Tokyo. Thus most of the pre-war administrative infrastructure was destroyed.
This was compounded by the loss of face for the British by the ease of the occupation, and by the rise of Chinese families that had become powerful through their collaboration with the Japanese.
So when the Japanese were defeated and England resumed administrative responsibility for Hong Kong, it faced a massive task. Given the large Portuguese community in Hong Kong – some of whom had been interned at prisoner of war camps, and many more who had fled to Macau and were returning to pillaged homes and collapsed businesses – so too did the Portuguese Government.
Despite its neutrality during the war, along with the other European nations, Portugal had closed its consulate after Hong Kong was occupied. In 1946 it chose Dr Eduardo Brazão as its first post-war Consul to reopen the Consulate.
Realising the enormity of his task, shortly after his arrival Dr Brazão approached the acting Governor of Macau, Commander Samuel Vieira, and asked for assistance in recruiting a Portuguese national who spoke Portuguese, English and Cantonese to assist him in re-establishing the consulate.
In an inspired choice for both Portugal and the Ribeiro family, Commander Vieira put forward Fernando's name. In addition to meeting the language criteria, Fernando's public service background and family upbringing enabled him to merge easily into the consular community, while his friendships and connections were immediately invaluable.
After a few months, Dr Brazão was so taken by the contribution of his young assistant that he offered Fernando the opportunity to leave the Macau Administration and join the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After much thought, and in consultation with the family, in 1947 he accepted the offer.
Maria Fernanda explains that the whole family supported the move because, while Fernando's job in Macau was steady, there were no promotional opportunities. Maria Fernanda herself was quite happy with the move, because after Hong Kong recovered from the Japanese occupation, it was more advanced and cosmopolitan than Macau.
She stayed close to her family, however, and every month she would return to Macau for a week, travelling either by ferry or by Catalina flying boat. On one occasion the flight achieved a special notoriety in the family because the day after Maria Fernanda and Margarida flew from Hong Kong to Macau for Margarida's second birthday, a group of Chinese pirates disguised as passengers attempted to hijack the return flight – which was carrying a shipment of gold as cargo. The plane crashed and 26 of the 27 passengers and all the crew perished (the only survivor being one of the intended hijackers). This was in 1948 and is reputed to be the world's first plane highjack attempt.
|When Fernando and Maria Fernanda first moved to Hong Kong, they lived with Fernando's sister Maria Alice (and husband José and son Manuel) at 1 Belfran Road, Kowloon. However, in 1950 Maria Alice, José and Manuel migrated to Australia, and Fernando and Maria Fernanda stayed on at Belfran Road as tenants unti\58, when the building was to be demolished. In accordance with the lease they had taken over from José and Maria Alice, the landlord had to pay them compensation to move out, and Fernando used the money to buy a three-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of Mandarin Court, Argyle Street, Kowloon. They remained there until they came to Australia in 1963, and by then the apartment was somewhat crowded – Fernando and Maria Fernanda, four children, and three servants (who lived and slept in one room with triple bunks and a separate toilet with a washbasin!).|
Living with her sister-in-law gave Maria Fernanda company while Fernando was at work, and they did many things together. There were other friends there as well, and there were her regular trips with Margarida to Macau. However, Maria Fernanda was never one to be inactive, and soon after they were settled in Hong Kong, she began work as a voluntary teacher, teaching Portuguese to the children of the local Portuguese community, situated in the Clube de Recreio.
Although he has never talked much about his work at the time, Fernando was clearly successful. By 1949 he was Chancellor of the Consulate and in 1950 he became Vice Consul (according to the Hong Kong Press at the time, he was the youngest person ever to have been appointed to that role). Later that year, Dr Brazão finished his posting and Fernando became acting Consul, a position he held until 1953, and then again in 1958-59 (in all he was Acting Consul for six years between 1950 and 1963).
Equally significantly, in 1953, he was approached to become the Permanent Secretary of the Hong Kong Consular Corps – a position he was to hold until 1961.
|Clearly his organisational skills came to the fore, and the parts of his work he does talk about are the numerous diplomatic balls and functions he organised on occasions such as the Portuguese National Day. From his press clippings and photos, it is clear, too, that Maria Fernanda was the perfect consular wife – attending functions, giving out awards, and mixing easily in the consular social scene. Not all of these went entirely according to plan, and on at least one occasion, funds were not provided from Portugal to cover the cost of their National Day Reception, and Fernando covered the cost himself rather than allow the Consulate to be embarrassed.|
But you do not get offered important and prestigious posts such as Permanent Secretary of the Consular Corps simply because you organise a good ball! So it is clear that Fernando was highly respected within the consular community.
At the same time, the diplomatic importance of organising significant events and hosting VIP visitors should not be under-estimated, particularly in the more formal times of the 1950s. At various times, Fernando played host to several Macau Governors, and the Portuguese Minister for Overseas Territory, as well as organising special functions involving the Governor of Hong Kong. As an example of his quietly effective diplomatic skills, Fernando recalls an important Catholic Mass at which the Governor had to attend. He was worried he would not stand or sit at the right time, so Fernando organised a priest to sit in a seat near and in front of him, and the Governor simply followed the priest's lead!
In the context of Fernando's work, it is worth noting that, in this respect, the unique status of Hong Kong in the British system worked in Fernando's favour. Despite its population, location and economic importance, Hong Kong had no diplomatic status in its own right – the embassies and 'pure' diplomats were all based in London, and other countries were represented in Hong Kong by consulates not embassies – so there was no dual class of diplomats and consular staff, as there is in most national capitals and city/states. Accordingly consular staff could be recognised on their merits rather than be always in the background to the diplomats.
Another insight into Fernando's contribution in those years was his involvement in the establishment of the Hong Kong Portuguese community school. He was involved right from the very beginning – from the idea that the school should be built. He worked hard at raising funds for its establishment – particularly by organising Portuguese cultural activities etc. One media article of the time reports his involvement down to the detail of approving the girls' costumes for displays of Portuguese national dancing. This, too, was a family affair, with Margarida being drafted as one of the dancers.
Land for the school was set aside; however, in 1952 a threat to its security emerged, and it was to Fernando that the committee turned. As a friend of the Hong Kong Governor, he was able to ring him and explain the situation. Despite his imminent departure overseas, the Governor intervened and the land grant was approved before he left. The funds were duly raised and the school built. Called the Escola Camões, after the Portuguese poet who had lived in Macau, the school opened in June 1954, with four teachers and 105 students. It still operates today.
In recognition of his huge contribution to the establishment of the school, Fernando was made a life member of the school board, as well as serving on its first committee of management.
In 1956 he was recognised by the Portuguese Government for his efforts in the re-establishment of the Portuguese Consulate after the war, and for his efforts in support of the school, by being made a Cavaleiro (knight) of the Civil Division of the Ordem Militar de Cristo (a prestigious order that dates back to the Knights of the Templars and the Crusades). Fortunately, the Portuguese honours system is different to the British/Australian systems of the time, and being a knight has a different significance, as I think Pai would die of embarrassment if we started calling him Sir Fernando!
Fernando was active in the community in other ways outside of his work – from 1951 to 1953 he was president of the Ex-students Association of St Luiz Gonzaga College, and he was co-founder and inaugural President of the Hong Kong Vespa Association.
Apart from supporting Fernando during these years, Maria Fernanda had a busy time – Isabel was born in 1951, João in 1953 and Luiz in 1961. In between, Fernanda worked in the Consulate as secretary/ administrative assistant in 1959 and 1960.
As well as their consular social activities, they had a strong circle of close friends, and Maria Fernanda had a very active social life. It was in this period that her special driving talents came to the fore – both in the Macau women's races and elsewhere (see chapter 8).
It was a time, too, of very happy weekends with the family, as they had acquired a speedboat, and between overloading the boat to go out to one of the isolated beaches for a picnic, and waterskiing, it is the source of many happy memories – not only for Fernando and Maria Fernanda, but for the three children old enough to remember.
All three of the older children look back with very fond memories not only of those weekend boat trips, but of growing up in Hong Kong. Those memories include special things for children – like buying roasted chestnuts off the street vendors; expensive toys at Christmas, money in red envelopes at Chinese New Year. And they include the experiences unique to growing up in the Hong Kong way – like being met after school by the amah sent to carry the school bag (but who would sometimes carry the child home, piggyback, as well!).
However, the strongest and happiest memories are of the weekend boat trips. Margarida, Isabel and João (at the age of six) could all waterski quite well – although Isabel's attempts to get her second foot onto a single ski apparently caused much hilarity. But it was not just the skiing and swimming that were the delights, but the whole adventure – loading tents, chairs, food, skis, people and anything else they might need on to the boat until it almost sank, then going out to a deserted beach for the day. To avoid going aground on arrival, Margarida would have to jump onto the rocks at the entrance to the beach and guide the boat by pulling it on a rope around the underwater obstacles. (Forty-five years later, João still has the tent that Fernando used to erect on arrival at the beach.)
At other times the family would stay home at the weekend, riding pillion (and learning to ride) on the family motor scooter. Or they would go to visit the family in Macau, with the children playing hide and seek in the big houses, or being driven round the Grand Prix circuit, sitting on the chassis of Maria Fernanda's racing sedan.
If it was too cold to go outside, then it was time for cards and gambling at home (for chips, not money of course). Friends would come around, and card games with names like 'Yellow Dwarf' and 'Red Dog', the dice game klu-klu, and mah-jong were all played noisily and with much enthusiasm.
Then there are the memories that are unique to the family – like a severe typhoon that hit Hong Kong, when Fernando had to push against the lounge room window with all his strength to stop it collapsing inwards. One shudders to think what might have happened if the glass had shattered.
In 1959 Fernando and Maria Fernanda went to Portugal on their own – leaving the children in Macau under the supervision of and the watchful eye of Maria Fernanda's sister-in-law, also Fernanda.
Hong Kong Sport and Recreation
Sport and recreation played an important role in the lives of both Fernando and Maria Fernanda at this time, and it deserves a chapter of its own.
When the family moved to Hong Kong, Fernando maintained his involvement in both tennis and badminton. In fact, he tells me that it was only when he moved that he realised he was a better than average player in both sports. The Hong Kong first division in each sport was dominated exclusively by Chinese players, and in each case there was a second or junior division in which the top European players competed.
|In tennis, Fernando joined the Portuguese Clube de Recreio, and over the next 16 years he won the club singles title two or three times, the men's doubles title four or five times and, playing with Marie Ribeiro Ramchand (no relation), the mixed doubles 'many times'. Some of his cups and trophies still stand on a shelf in their home in Canberra – but now relegated to the garage due to lack of space in the house. He also competed in many open HK tournaments but although he did well, he never won a major trophy.|
Showing the completeness of his assimilation into the Hong Kong community, Fernando became Hong Kong's men's tennis team captain for many of the regular interport competitions against Macau. In 1953, Fernando took the opportunity of their forthcoming trip to Australia to apply for acceptance in the NSW Open Tennis Championship. His entry was endorsed by the HK Tennis Association and it was accepted. To Fernando it was an honour even to be accepted, but he performed even better than he had hoped, winning his first round against South Australian D. Tanner 6/1, 6/1, 6/1. He then met the fifth-ranked player in Australia, Ian Ayre, and, even though beaten 6/1, 6/1, 6/1, he is even more proud that he took even three games off such a noted player than he is of his first-round win. Many years later, he met up with Ian Ayre in an Australian Veterans' tournament and reminisced about his special time. To illustrate the quality of the field he played in, the winner of the singles was Lew Hoad, and it also featured champion Australians Mervyn Rose and Ken Rosewall, as well as Vic Seixas and Tony Trabert of the USA Davis Cup team.
Fernando also entered the doubles partnered by his (then) young nephew Manuel da Silva (also a notable player, who had played in the Wimbledon juniors' tournament, and went on to become a professional tennis coach). Unfortunately, in their first round they drew the fourth-seeded combination of Don Candy and George Worthington, and did not progress further.
In 1955 Fernando again entered an international tournament – this time in Portugal. However, on this occasion he drew the number one seed, David Cohen, in the first round, and did not cause an upset. He continued to play first-class tennis until he left Hong Kong and, as a later chapter says, for many, many years after that.
Badminton is not such an international game for Europeans as tennis is, but in that sport also, Fernando played exceptionally well during his Hong Kong years. In 1948, partnered by his lifelong friend Tony Bayot (married to Fernando's first cousin, Lourdes) he was runner up in the Hong Kong 'junior' championship. (The Bayot family later moved to Sydney (having earlier moved from Hong Kong to the Philippines) to live with Lourdes's mother Maria Amélia de Menezes (Fernando's maternal aunt), where they were to become very close friends of his sister Maria Alice, and later their friendship was renewed when Fernando and Maria Fernanda came to Australia.) In 1949 he entered the mixed doubles with Olga Lawrence – also a family friend, who in turn later moved to Australia as well with her husband Wilfred and sons Wilfred Jr and Vincent. Wilfred Jr now lives in Canberra with his family.
Fernando also played in the Hong Kong badminton team in the 'interport' competitions with Macau. However, unlike tennis, he gave away competitive badminton when he came to Australia, playing only the occasional social game with his family.
|While all of the family are conscious of Maria Fernanda's motor sporting exploits (see below), we must not forget that Fernando, too, was an active and successful motor sport competitor. I can remember teasing him that the reason he gave up motor racing was that he could not beat Maria Fernanda. However, he was able to produce the result sheets which show that the only times he competed directly against her, driving the same car, he was the better performer. He was more proud, however, of his later performances in his TR3 when he came third out of 41 in a major gymkhana, out-performing several well known Hong Kong racing drivers. Like Maria Fernanda, he also competed in events run by the Hong Kong Vespa Club that they had helped to establish.|
Sport was not the only field in which Fernando's latent talent came to the fore after he moved to Hong Kong. Although he had been interested in learning card tricks and showing them to friends and family in Macau, Fernando took the step into more professional magic almost as soon as he moved to Hong Kong. His friend Leonardo d'Almada Remedios was also interested, and was a member of the Hong Kong Magic Circle, a group of amateur and professional magicians, who met regularly to exchange tricks and teach each other. The circle was run by an amateur magician Lawrence Gainsburger, and included two fully professional Chinese magicians.
While he did not develop any new tricks of his own, Fernando was a quick learner, and by reading books and learning from his friends, he developed a repertoire of card, coin and rope tricks of such professional quality that he began to appear in public charity shows put on by the Circle at the YMCA in Hong Kong.
While his own favourite was a rope trick, he received special acclaim for rolling an invisible ball under a handkerchief which disappeared when the handkerchief was lifted. A visiting professional magician from the US, Guy Thompson, was so impressed by this trick and Fernando's performance that on his return to the US, he wrote it up in the Genii magazine in June 1958. As with all his many achievements, Fernando has kept the article, and a program from a performance, amongst his memorabilia. Although he did not remain as involved in magic when he came to Australia, he has never lost his skills, and three generations of the family have been entranced by coins that go through tables, and cards that do exactly as he tells them. Even at 84 he performed for our 2006 Christmas celebrations, and left at least one adult desperately checking the cards to look for markings on the back.
Maria Fernanda – Motor Racing
Maria Fernanda says that from a very young age she had been fascinated by cars. This was very unusual for a girl in Macau in the 1930s, when even adult women rarely drove. She says she learnt to drive by sitting next to her father's chauffeur and watching. Soon he would let her steer the car from beside him, while he worked the gears and pedals. Certainly by the age of 12 she was able to drive. We know this because of the escapade related above, when, as Maria Fernanda recounts, she was seen driving on her own by the Macau Chief of Police. After that she was more circumspect about driving the car until she got her licence at 17.
It was not until some years later, after the family had moved to Hong Kong, however, that she began her involvement in competitive motor sport. In 1954, both Maria Fernanda and Fernando began competing in time trials in Macau, using Maria Fernanda's father's car, a Vauxhall Velox. Also about that time Fernando was involved in the establishment of the Hong Kong Vespa Club, and again both of them competed in club events – sometimes with eight-year-old Margarida riding as pillion passenger in novelty events.
Maria Fernanda's more serious involvement in motor racing began in 1956, when she competed in – and won – the first women's race at the Macau Grand Prix event. Driving a dealer-sponsored Fiat 1100 sedan, Fernanda beat women driving more fancied sports cars such as MGAs.
This did not just happen, though – for weeks before the event, which was on a hilly street-based course around the outer harbour and reservoir of Macau, Maria Fernanda practised driving around the course at speed in the early mornings. This became a regular sight, and Fernanda recalls driving by the army barracks as she practised, and being cheered on by the troops. On the race day itself, a family friend recalls that Fernando was more nervous than Maria Fernanda, and as he watched the race he was heard whispering 'Fernanda, be careful, remember the children' each lap as she drove past them. She was careful, and she went on to win. But even then, her mischievous side came out, and the Hong Kong newspaper of the next day records how, at the end of the race 'Hordes of photographers and officials rushed to the line. She drove up at speed, braking inches from them, sending the lot scurrying.'
Maria Fernanda also competed in 1958 and was hot favourite to win; however, by then the event had become better known internationally, and an American lady came from Okinawa, driving a Triumph TR3, and Maria Fernanda came second, still driving the Fiat 1100 sedan.
When we think of Maria Fernanda driving we naturally think of the Grand Prix races – but her interests and achievements were broader than that. She was a successful competitor in gymkhanas and hill climbs (even racing her Vespa in hill climbs), as well as the novelty events. Margarida would say that some of those novelty events she went in with Maria Fernanda would probably be banned today as child cruelty – having to catch a young chicken, or to eat a large slice of very dry cake, before proceeding to the next test. But in those days it was fun and everyone enjoyed it.
Maria Fernanda is rightly proud of her achievements, which are documented in the Macau Grand Prix Museum. It should be noted that involvement in motor sport ran in Maria Fernanda's family and her brother-in-law Carlos da Silva was on the organising committee for that first Grand Prix, while her brother Gustavo also competed.
Maria Fernanda's days of glory as a racing driver came back to reward her in 2003, when she and Fernando were invited back to Macau for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Grand Prix itself. They were flown business class and stayed in the luxury Landmark Hotel, and given VIP passes to watch all the races. They were honoured guests, too, at the prize-giving night, sitting with the Governor of Macau and the Macau Tourist Commissioner. Maria Fernanda was also taken to the Grand Prix Museum, where she was interviewed for Portuguese/Macau television, sitting in front of the TR2 that won the first race.
Even after they came to Australia, Maria Fernanda remained an enthusiastic driver and would drive at great speed between Canberra and Sydney in her little blue Volkswagen.
The family genes have proved strong, and João grew up to be a successful racing driver, high-performance driving instructor, and precision-driving demonstrator in model launches and television commercials. Indeed it emerged during the research for this book that as a teenager, Isabel also demonstrated considerable prowess in driving her Mini-Cooper in ways that are best left unwritten, while both Luiz and João admitted to 'borrowing' Maria Fernanda's car before they had a licence. So perhaps the influence she passed on went beyond simple driving skills and a love of speed.
In 1963 Fernando accepted an appointment to the Portuguese Embassy in Canberra. Given their family and community links to Hong Kong, the cultural differences, and their affluent lifestyle in Hong Kong, it was indeed a dramatic change for Fernando and Maria Fernanda.
However, the decision to move from Hong Kong to Australia was not as surprising as it may seem on face value. Although Portuguese is the first language for Fernando and Maria Fernanda, all of the school-age children went to English speaking schools in Hong Kong, so while Portuguese was spoken in the home, and Cantonese to the servants and in the restaurants etc, their natural language was English.
Moreover, while Hong Kong was a vibrant and exciting place to live in the 1950s, it was still a predominantly Chinese community, to be administered by Britain by treaty until 1997, but surrounded by Chairman Mao's Communist China and entirely dependent on it for its water. This was still the height of the Cold War, and the world was an uncertain place to live in. This was brought home to Hong Kong and to the Ribeiros in 1956, when the anniversary of the 1911 Chinese revolution was celebrated on 10 October. Mobs of Nationalist sympathisers rioted in Kowloon Tong, looting shops and attacking property belonging to Communist sympathisers. Isabel remembers watching the rioters run past in the street outside their apartment in Belfran Road, and Maria Fernanda's brother Hermes was visiting Hong Kong and was beaten by a mob. Fernando had to be driven to and from their Kowloon apartment to the Star Ferry by armoured car every day. During this time it was also normal for him to be armed with a pistol as he went about his daily business.
So Fernando and Maria Fernanda had decided some time in the 1950s that they should consider migrating for the sake of the children, and living in a predominantly English-speaking European community. So when an offer was made to come and work in the Portuguese Embassy in Canberra, it was not a difficult choice to make. Already they had a strong group of family and friends in Sydney – Fernando's sister Maria Alice and her family, his aunt Maria Amélia with her son Rui and daughter Lourdes (who, as we have said, had married Fernando's badminton partner, Tony Bayot).
|And there was no direct family left in Macau – Fernanda's parents had died in 1954 and 1959 respectively, and her brothers and sisters were scattered around the world. Fernando's mother had moved, first to Australia, and then to Portugal where her other daughter, Maria Helena, lived. So while they had many close friends in both Macau and Hong Kong, they were free to move wherever the opportunity arose. Maria Fernanda also says that, by 1963, she had started to tire of the frantic social life, and was glad of an opportunity to slow down.|
In 1963, Dr Inácio Rebello de Andrade passed through Hong Kong en route to his new posting as Chargé d'Affaires of Portugal in Canberra. He offered Fernando a position in the Embassy and Fernando accepted.
Maria Fernanda and children travelled by ship on the Iberia – it was a rough passage, and Margarida till this day can remember that voyage and suffers from seasickness with the thought of that trip. Fernando followed later by plane.
On arrival in Australia, Maria Fernanda stayed on in Sydney at Maria Alice's home with Luiz; however, it was important that Margarida, Isabel and João start school in Canberra. So they came with Fernando, staying with him in a guest house in Ainslie for three months while he found and purchased their first Canberra home at 17 Ferdinand Street, Campbell (seeing the street name as a good omen for them).
Maria Fernanda remembers that, because Luiz was only very young, he had spent most of his time with his amah and the servants. So when they were settling in, he would speak to her in Cantonese – causing great confusion to strangers who did not expect a European child to speak to his mother in Chinese.
Notwithstanding the ease of making the decision, the move to Canberra was a dramatic one for the Ribeiros. In stark contrast to the bustling Hong Kong, in 1963 Canberra was barely more than a quiet regional city – a population of 66,000 and a very sedate lifestyle.
If it had not been for the help of the servants, packing to come would have been a nightmare for Maria Fernanda. Apart from the heavy blackwood dining room furniture and wardrobes, and the Chinese decorations, they brought trunks full of tablecloths, sheets, towels etc – some that have not been used 44 years later! Everything came – the curtains from the windows; the padded winter clothes to cope with Hong Kong's cold damp winters; both Chinese and European-style dinner services; masses of crystal and silverware; and the clothes suited to the Hong Kong lifestyle – furs, hats, starched removable collars for Fernando's shirts. So too came all the weekend 'necessities' – the beach tent, the mah-jong, the cards and dice – Fernando's guns, cameras and films, his tennis and badminton racquets. All packed in aluminium and camphor wood trunks – where much of it would stay, unused in the very different Australian climate and lifestyle, stored under the house in Ferdinand Street (and, later, under the houses of various children).
The family remembers that Fernando was horrified when he saw the simple, timber-framed brick-veneer houses being built in the suburbs – remembering the typhoons of Hong Kong and Macau, he felt they would blow over in the first strong wind. At that stage, Lake Burley Griffin had not yet been filled, and the street lights in the suburbs were turned off at 10.00 p.m.
But the biggest impact was on Maria Fernanda – suddenly she was living in a house with a garden, and bringing up four children without any help from the three servants she had so totally relied on. So she had to learn for the first time the very basics of cooking, shopping and housekeeping. She recalls that before coming to Canberra she had never even touched raw meat, and did not know how to prepare it.
She had, however, brought a rice cooker and a packet of Chinese sausage from Hong Kong, and for the first week that is what the family ate. Maria Fernanda also discovered the Blue Moon Café in Civic, and for variety, it was a regular thing to buy fish and chips and other takeaway food from it.
Quickly realising the enormity of the changes she had to make, Maria Fernanda responded with her typical energy and determination. She went to technical college and did all the cooking classes they had on offer – general, Chinese, French etc. She has now blended what she learned with the traditional Macanese recipes that had been the favourites in the family home, and is a wonderful cook. In fact, in only six years after their arrival, in August 1969, she was featured in the Canberra Times, with an article about how her cooking took advantage of her exposure to Portuguese and Chinese cuisine, and giving the recipes for some of the dishes she served to her guests. It is hard to accept that she was nearly 40 when she first started to learn to cook.
Similarly, she organised herself into a strict routine to cover all the other new tasks – shopping, washing, ironing and cleaning – all done on the same day every week, and within two months she had mastered the basics.
For the rest of the family the transition was nowhere near as dramatic. Fernando had his work and the basic role was the same in Canberra as it was in Hong Kong. However, even he had some interesting learning experiences. Before coming to Australia, he had never needed a roof rack on the car. However, when they came to Australia they had discovered the need for a second car and Maria Fernanda had bought a blue VW Beetle. Deciding to take the children to Sydney to visit Maria Alice, Fernando realised that two adults and four children in a VW left very little room for luggage (especially as two-year-old Luiz was sitting in the luggage bay behind the back seat!). So Fernando bought and fitted a roof rack. Unfortunately he tightened it before he put any weight on it – and as he drove around Lake George, it came off completely, landing on the road behind the car. It is something the children have never let him rget. As a 17-year-old, Margarida seems to have made the transition to Australian life quite smoothly. However, Isabel says that leaving her friends was very difficult, and despite Canberra being home to many diplomatic families, both she and João initially found it difficult to fit in at school – enduring racist comments and similar difficulties.
Both Fernando and, particularly, Maria Fernanda had to learn, too, to become more 'hands-on' parents. While Margarida and Isabel can remember being threatened/chased with the feather duster by Maria Fernanda, in Hong Kong the servants were always around – picking them up from school, cleaning up their rooms, sorting out the minor problems. So there were fewer opportunities for them to get up to mischief or to incur the wrath of their parents.
|All that changed when they moved to Canberra. The growing children had far more freedom in a culture that put less emphasis on structure and 'proper' behaviour, and more on independence and individualism. Nor were there any servants to tidy rooms, pick up after them, or keep them out of mischief. So they had to be guided and educated in doing things that Maria Fernanda had never had to be involved in before, and did not have time to do now. So they had to focus more on that side of parenting, and both Luiz and João (and later Gabriela) put more emphasis in their description of their growing up on both the feather duster (kai mo sou) and the riding crop (chicote) – and Maria Fernanda has been quoted as telling them that 'children start off being savages and need to be tamed'! In these days of sensitivity about the bounds of parental discipline, such a statement may sound politically incorrect, but it is interesting that all of the children looked back on that discipline with fond affection and a wry smile, and commented they survived it without emotional scars.|
As noted above, both João and Luiz seem to have inherited their mother's passion for speed and early driving. I well recall the uproar when an unrepentant João returned home after being booked for doing excessive speed on his motorbike. Both João and Luiz admit that Maria Fernanda was not the only one who secretly drove the family car before they had a licence, and João recalls Maria Fernanda 'hinting' that it would good if Luiz was picked up from school in the VW that afternoon (which, as a dutiful son, he did). Both João and Luiz, however, felt the touch of Fernando's 'chicote' for various indiscretions.
Luiz's driving was to be mildly traumatic for Gabriela as well. She remembers coming home one afternoon after school, and seeing her mother driving off, leaving her an empty house. In those days before mobile phones, no one thought to let her know what had happened, so for the first time in her life she valiantly prepared the family dinner, to discover later that Luiz had been taken to hospital after a motorcycle accident behind the War Memorial.
As with many fathers, Fernando was very protective of his daughters, and Isabel remembers him escorting her to a Beatles movie at the Albert Hall, and standing 'guard' as chaperon when she had school parties at the school hall.
(Ironically I can remember clearly both Isabel and Margarida discussing how much more latitude Gabriela was given as a teenager than they were, yet Gabriela still laments such cruel teenage restrictions as not being allowed to see the movie Grease at age 15, because a teenager got pregnant in it!)
Despite her steep learning curve, by 1968 Maria Fernanda had become so well established that she was able to return to work – initially working in the Embassy as a temporary administrative assistant from 1968 to 1970. Then, in 1974, an approach was made to the Embassy by the Department of Foreign Affairs, looking for someone to teach Portuguese to Australian diplomatic staff going on postings to Portuguese-speaking countries like Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Goa, metropolitan Portugal etc. Her first class was for about six or seven students, and she continued to coach diplomats until 1985, when she and Fernando moved from Campbell to Turner. Maria Fernanda also helped out occasionally as an interpreter – for example assisting a non-English-speaking Portuguese worker seeking worker's compensation in the courts.
The days at Campbell were happy ones for the family – the younger ones remembering the small above ground pool in which they and their nephews and nieces had lots of summer fun; barbecues in the patio behind the garage eating piri piri chicken and pasteis de bacalhau (cod fish pasties); the store room and rumpus room underneath the house, where children could get up to mischief and think their parents did not know. (Fernando and Maria Fernando have learnt a few things from the research into this biography, but they have also revealed that they were wise enough to know more than they let on they did. Fernando learned, for example that their 'secure' gun cabinet under the house had doors with hinges that could be unpinned, then removed and later replaced, all while it was still locked. However, as parents they could not be persuaded to tell what they actually knew of some of their children's escapades.)
I asked Margarida's brothers and sisters for memories and reminiscences to help me write this, and, while I don't want to embarrass any of them with direct quotes, I was struck by their appreciation of the richness of the life and experiences they have been given by Fernando and Maria Fernanda.
Fernando soon adjusted to the work at the Embassy, which was then located in a converted two-storey duplex in Bougainville Street, in the Manuka shopping area. The position was at a less pressured pace for him, as there was an Ambassador to cover the representational and ceremonial responsibilities, leaving him to manage the office and the consular functions. That is not to say it was always easy. In his 24 years at the Embassy in Canberra, Fernando served two Chargés d'Affaires and then four Ambassadors, and all of them had their idiosyncrasies and differing expectations – as did other staff posted to the Embassy. Fernando recalls one official who was so absent-minded that he wrote the combination on the Embassy's diplomatic safe so that he could remember it!
While he was no longer responsible for organising major diplomatic functions, there were a steady round of official as well as informal functions to attend, and after he had settled in, he quickly became the backbone of the office, guiding new Ambassadors through the peculiarities of the Canberra environment.
There were, too, moments of drama and periods of hard work. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Portuguese colonial policies in Timor, Angola and Mozambique became the focus of radical activists – with hoax calls to the Embassy, graffiti and vandalism to the building, and so on. There were threatening calls made to him and the Ambassador.
These were taken so seriously by the Canberra police that the Ambassador was issued with a handgun by them, and Fernando authorised to carry one (which, however, he had to buy himself). As Fernando says – luckily they were never required to be used.
Soon after the invasion and annexation of East Timor by Indonesia in June 1976, Fernando travelled with his good friend Dr José de Mello Gouveia (formerly Chargé d'Affaires in Canberra and then Consul-General in Sydney) where they assisted with the repatriation and processing of hundreds of refugees displaced by the Indonesian take over. In his quiet way, Fernando simply says of the period, 'It was hard work.'
In terms of his overall work, again Fernando does not talk a lot; however, over the years talking to people like Dr Mello Gouveia and his counterpart in Melbourne, Dr Carlos de Lemos, it was clear that he was highly respected by them.
One thing that the Ambassadors could always rely on was that the financial records and other administrative processes were meticulously managed. What they did not always see was the time, often at home at night, that Fernando would spend ensuring that this was so – and that the books balanced to the last cent. There were also times, however, when I can recall him muttering under his breath about those same Ambassadors as he sat at the kitchen table, trying to make sense of what they had done.
I have met, too, Portuguese who had dealt with Fernando on passport or citizenship matters and not only do they speak highly of him, but they look back affectionately to a more personalised level of service than is possible now.
Australia is a very safe and comfortable place to live, particularly if you come from a third world or troubled country, and some years ago it found itself faced with a problem with diplomats 'retiring' at the end of their posting in Canberra, and remaining in Australia without going through proper migration channels. So the government of the day introduced a rule requiring diplomats to leave the country at the end of their posting and, if they wished to return, to apply for entry to Australia on a normal migration basis.
Thus when Fernando retired in 1987, after living for 24 years in Australia, he and Maria Fernanda had to leave Australia and apply in the normal way – so Margarida and I sponsored them as migrants. We were, however, able to pre-arrange everything so that, in effect, they took a very enjoyable and well deserved post-retirement holiday to Portugal and returned as sponsored migrants. (Ironically even though Gabriela was born in Canberra and had spent her whole life here, she too had to leave Australia and become a sponsored migrant.) In 1991, Fernando and Maria Fernanda were granted Australian citizenship. Australia allows dual citizenship, so they have also retained their Portuguese identity. They are now very proud of being Australian and their names are to be included on the Immigration Bridge to be built in Canberra as a memorial to the contribution that migration has made to Australia.
Sport and Recreation in Australia
Immediately Fernando moved to Canberra in 1963, he joined the Campbell Tennis Club, and quickly became a regular member of its pennant team – and for the next 20 years (until he was 61) he continued to play pennant tennis with consistent success. However, his skills with organising sporting and diplomatic functions, developed and honed over 16 years in Hong Kong, were to combine with his love of tennis to lead to an enduring legacy to tennis in the ACT.
|In November 1965, two years after their arrival, Fernando joined with Rosemarie Plug, the wife of a Dutch diplomat, to organise the first Diplomatic-Australian Tennis Tournament in Canberra. The event was such a success that those who missed out on the first one asked them to organise another. This began a tradition and, twice a year ever since, there has been a diplomatic tennis tournament held in Canberra.|
Naturally, as well as organising the event, Fernando played, and over the next 24 years he won seven men's doubles titles and two mixed doubles. Included amongst his successful partners was Lt General Sir Thomas Daly, Chief of Staff of the Australian Defence Forces, with whom he won the men's trophy in 1968. One of Fernando's partners in the mixed doubles was Isabel – then in her late teens – who recalls that it was fun meeting so many different people and seeing diplomats and VIPs relaxing in a social setting. Fernando's obvious skills in organising successful social tennis tournaments were again recognised in 1979 when the Press Club asked him to organise a similar style tournament for journalists and politicians, in which such notables as the then Minister for Immigration, Michael Mackellar, and ACT Senator the late John Knight played. Fernando remained involved with the diplomatic tennis as both player and committee member after his retirement in 1987, and only withdrew from both in 1989, aged 68.
|This did not, however, mean the end of his competitive tennis career, because in 1974 he had joined the Veterans' Tennis Circuit, and for the next 32 years he represented the ACT, progressing through the age categories, and playing for the ACT 14 times in different capital cities, finally retiring from competitive tennis in 2002, at the age of 80. During his time in the Veterans competition he played with and against many tennis notables, and formed friendships with many more all around Australia. Until very recently he still played regularly with his Wednesday group at the Lyneham Tennis Club, and in 2006 a major operation as part of a successful fight with cancer only caused a minor interruption to his playing schedule. He finally stopped playing socially in early 2007, due to a fall that did not injure him, but did make him realise that at his age, a fractured hip or other similar injury could be a major disaster.|
Tennis has played an enormous role in Fernando's life, and not only as a player, because the skills he displayed as an organiser, and the friendships and contacts he made, were as relevant to his work and to his social life as they were to his enjoyment of the sport he loved.
Portugal and Macau Trip 1975
Travel has become an increasingly important part of the interests and activities of Fernando and Maria Fernanda. Their first big overseas trip after moving to Australia was in 1975. In that year Maria Fernanda, Fernando, Luiz (14), Gabriela (eight), Margarida, I, and our two sons, David (six) and Mark (four), went to Portugal – also visiting Madrid and Rome, and stopping off in Macau and Hong Kong on the way home
It was a very important trip for Fernando and Maria Fernanda, spending time seeing his mother and sister Maria Helena, and staying with or visiting Maria Fernanda's brother Gustavo and sister Beatriz as well as numerous aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews – showing off both family members and grandchildren. For all of us it was a wonderful experience – particularly when we hired two cars and toured the country outside Lisbon with Fernando's sister Maria Helena. But this is their story and it was very special for them.
Equally special was the stop over in Hong Kong and Macau on the way back. While we were in Macau it was their 30th wedding anniversary, and Fernando and Maria Fernanda renewed their wedding vows in a ceremony in the same church as they had first made them 30 years before.
I think it was then that I truly began to understand their love for Macau, as they took us to see their old homes and the homes of their parents and introduced us to 'prego' (steak in a crusty bun) in the Solmar restaurant, where they had eaten them so many years before. Maria Fernanda drove us around the streets that formed the Grand Prix circuit where she had won 21 years before. It was very nostalgic and special for them, and it revived the Macanese spirit in Margarida, while I gained much more of an understanding of the special character of the Macanese culture.
In Hong Kong it was a marathon eating contest – staying with 'Aunty Ana' (Avó Celeste's second cousin) at Kowloon but in a constant round of reunion lunches and dinners, visits to the golf club, to see the bay where they went at weekends, out to the lanes of the Stanley Bay markets, and to the night markets for shopping and meals, and visits to both Clube Lusitano and the Clube de Recreio, which had been such a big part of their lives 12 years before.
I well remember Maria Fernanda's mischievous nature coming to the fore at a dinner in Sha Tin, Kowloon given to us by a group of their friends. Looking me in the eye, she told everyone how well I had adapted to Chinese food and would eat anything, and ordered '1,000-year-old' duck eggs, ginger frog's legs, and various other 'delicacies' for me to try. Then she grinned as I struggled to maintain the image. It was vintage Maria Fernanda.
In 1985 they had moved from their house and garden in Campbell to an upstairs apartment in Turner. This took away the need to garden, and gave them more free time. At that time Margarida and I had a caravan permanently located at Barlings Beach, south of Bateman's Bay, while João's parents-in-law also had a van at a park not too far away. All the family liked to go down to the coast, so when João found an inexpensive van for sale, Fernando and Maria Fernanda went shares with him and took a site almost directly behind our van at Barlings Beach. The two vans became a popular spot for the whole family, and Fernando and Maria Fernanda found their trips to the caravan very relaxing. In fact, they came to enjoy it so much that they bought João's share from him to spend more time down there. That first van was quite small, and they found a larger and more modern van with a solid annex for sale, at a park nearby, so they sold the small van and had the new one relocated to their site.
By then they were regularly baby sitting Gabriela's daughter, Sylvie, yet we were using our van less as our own children grew up. So we came to an arrangement with them, sold our van, and had a toilet and shower built on to their annex. Sylvie recalls that she loved going down to the caravan with such a 'cool' grandmother who would play in the rock pools with her, chase crabs, and take her into the water. However, in 1997 she moved to Sydney with her mother, and the trips down the coast became less frequent. Not long after that, Fernando started to find the traffic on the coast road heavier, and the trip more tiring. Then in 2000 they bought their current home in Nicholls, with a small garden, and a slightly longer trip time. They sold the van in 2002, but for 15 years it formed a big and enjoyable part of their life in retirement.
For our story's purposes, obviously the wedding of Fernando and Maria Fernanda is the most important family event and that is recorded above. However, over the years, the weddings of their children have been particularly important events, with a variety of special memories for Maria Fernanda and Fernando.
The first of these was on 26 August 1967, when Margarida and I were married at St Thomas More's church in Campbell ACT.
Naturally it was a major family gathering, and Fernando's mother – now simply Avó – came out from Portugal for it. Aged 74, and about five feet tall, she was still a dynamo of energy and cooked many of the dishes of finger food for the reception. Margarida was driven to the church by Turquel, the Embassy chauffeur, and the reception itself held at the residence of the Chargé d'Affaires, Dr Mello Gouveia, in Deakin.
Five years later in 1972, Isabel was married to Robert Harvey, again at St Thomas More's at Campbell. This time the family did not cater for the reception, and it was held at the Hibiscus Restaurant in Jamison. Given today's prices it seems hard to believe, but Maria Fernanda recalls that the catering cost for the reception was $3.50 per head (and she still has the receipt to prove it!).
Then in 1975 it was João's turn, and he and Gabriela Sliwinski were married at St Joseph's at O'Connor. Gabriela's family is Polish and the reception was held at the Polish Club in O'Connor. Amongst the guests were the then Ambassador of Portugal, Dr Antonio Cabrita Matias, and Dr Mello Goveia, who had then become the Consul-General of Portugal in Sydney.
After that, changing community attitudes to relationships and marriage ceremonies began to influence the Ribeiro family too. Thus when Luiz married Elizabeth Pullinger in 1987, at the Uniting Parish Church in Hall, Margarida stood at the back of the church throughout the ceremony, holding their baby son, Alan.
True to her unconventional and artistic nature, when Gabriela came to marry João Narciso in 1988, she chose not a church but a lovely sunrise ceremony on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin, with a breakfast reception at the Regatta Point restaurant.
Then, to cap that off, in 2005, when she married Harry Mason, they chose Murramarang Resort, South Durras, and a dusk ceremony on the beach, followed by a public fireworks display (and to show how organised they were, the fireworks were for a promotional video for the fireworks display company, which was filmed during the evening by Harry's friends).
Luiz, too, has married for a second time, and he and Jeanne Chapman chose a Buddhist ceremony in an open-air temple in Launceston, Tasmania. As the family could not attend that, they celebrated the marriage at a family reception at The Carrington in Bungendore.
They may all have been different and evoke different memories for Fernando and Maria Fernanda, but all of them were special to them and they reflect the individuality of the children they have reared.
So what has happened to those children that they learned to parent in 1963? Just to be different, I thought we would start with Gabriela first and work backwards.
Gabriela turned 41 this year. After leaving school she followed her creative and unconventional nature and obtained a degree in Visual Arts as an artist in glass work. In 1986 she met João Narciso, a Portuguese waiter here in Canberra. In 1988 they married, and in 1991 Sylvie was born.
In 1991 they opened Café Tasca, a small Portuguese restaurant in the O'Connor shops. It was an instant success and they quickly outgrew its size. So in 1994 they moved to much larger premises in Lonsdale Street, Braddon. The conversion of the new premises was a truly family affair, with all of us chipping in to help paint it and create the Portuguese décor – including acquiring an old fishing boat, cutting it diagonally in half, and hanging it from the ceiling on the wall near the doorway. Fernando helped do the accounts; Marie Fernanda minded Sylvie; and even Margarida and I could occasionally be found in the kitchen or behind the bar when staff did not show up! While the restaurant was still popular, the higher rent and the harder work of the new premises took their toll, the marriage succumbed, and they were divorced in 1997.
Soon after, Gabriela met Harry Mason, an Englishman engaged in producing commercials for film and television, and big events for television coverage, and she moved to live in Sydney. In 1999 Gabriela told us that they had bought Petrest – a pet cremation service – and we all rolled our eyes: here she goes again, doing something eccentric. To our amazement it was a raging success, and today it is a thriving business. Their daughter Billie was born on 19 August 2001. Sylvie is now 17 and in her final year at school.
Luiz was always the quietest of the family and at an early age converted to Buddhism. For a number of years he worked almost casually in order to be free to go on retreat and to meditate in Buddhist centres around the world.
He married Elizabeth in 1987 and they had Alan that year. But the marriage did not workout, and they divorced in 1995. Elizabeth is also active in the Buddist community and remained in Canberra. So although Alan stayed with her, he has always stayed part of the family and is close to Fernando and Maria Fernanda. He is now 21 and working in the security industry in Canberra. He has always been interested in his Portuguese heritage, and, in an unusual gesture, in 2006 he changed his first name from Alan to Marcio to emphasis his identification with it. Luiz continued to work on a contract basis, but his obvious capabilities were recognised by a public service short on capable workers, and for a while he became almost an itinerant public servant – working for a range of departments around his religious commitments.
In 1999 at a monastic retreat in Brazil, he met Jeanne Chapman, an American flight attendant who shared his attitudes and beliefs. In 17 October 2003, they married at a Buddhist temple in Launceston, Tasmania. In April 2004, Jeanne's 84-year-old mother, Flo (Florence) Rogers, migrated to Australia from the USA and now lives with them.
João inherited the family passion for, and skill at, driving. His passion for it has taken him through riding motorbikes at excessive speed, to the hill climb and race track – including significant success in both the Clubman and Formula V categories, as well as a co-driver in endurance racing. At various times he has sold cars and motorbikes, given driving tests to applicants for driving licences, been a display driver for car model launches and television commercials, and given high-speed and defensive-driving instruction for the police and specialist drivers.
In 1975 he married Gabriela Sliwinski, a Polish Australian. Their two children, André and Carla, have now left school (Carla being helped in her Marketing and Communication degree by a bursary from the Casa de Macau Association). André is working in IT, while Carla is working part time in a law firm while she finishes her degree.
Isabel followed Margarida into nursing, but, unlike Margarida, she was able to manage the shifts and the stresses, and went on to a highly successful career – until recently in accident and emergency, and now as Nurse Liaison in the specialist stroke unit at Canberra hospital.
She married Robert Harvey in 1972. Their three children, Justin, Benjamin (Ben) and Cassandra (Cassie), are all grown up and left home. Sadly, after 32 years, things went wrong and she and Robert were divorced in 2005. Isabel now has a new partner, Jim Pollard, and a new lease on life. Justin has established a thriving chain of coffee shops and cafés in Canberra, while Ben who lives in Sydney is a consultant in wellbeing and a life coach/counsellor. To Fernando's great delight, Ben has a strong interest in magic and they have many animated conversations about how to do this trick, or how that trick was done in a television show. While Justin and Ben have stayed single, Cassie (who has continued the family nursing tradition) has a partner, Ben Casey, and in January 2005 Jemma was born – Isabel's first grandchild and the apple of her eye. Their second child, Amália Lily, was born in February 2008, and they now live at Avoca in the Central Coast of NSW.
Which leaves Margarida – and she and I have now been married for 40 years. Margarida achieved her mother's ambition and trained as a nurse, but quickly found that she did not enjoy bringing up a family while working shift work. (It may be telling tales out of school, but nursing was also the opportunity to take a training place at Hornsby Hospital, in Sydney, away from the eagle eye of parents.) So she transitioned into the public service, 'retiring' in 1998. However, she is still active in many ways, as a volunteer and helping me in my consultancy business.
As the first two of Fernando and Maria Fernanda's grandchildren, our two boys, David and Mark, are well and truly grown-up. David works for the Australian Bureau of Statistics, while Mark has a grounds maintenance contracting business in the Hunter Valley – and in his spare time he is a rugby union coach. They both got married in 1999, David to Alison Warren, and Mark to Sharon Davis. Sharon is a true-blue Aussie, tracing her own family ancestry back to the First Fleet. Mark and Sharon have two children, Lilliah born in 2000 and Connor born in 2003 – the first two of Fernando and Maria Fernanda's four great-grandchildren (along with Jemma and Amália ).
As I mention below, the family is in a period of transition, and it is the grandchildren who now have taken on more responsibility for maintaining the family traditions. They do so well grounded in the exhortation and example of their grandparents.
Staying on in Australia
When we look back, the family was an area of constant change for the Ribeiros after they came to Australia. After two short years of stability, Margarida left school at the end of 1964 and took up nursing, going to live and train at Hornsby Hospital in Sydney. Then, out of the blue, in 1966, Maria Fernanda became pregnant again, and in April 1967, Gabriela was born. By that time, Margarida had met me, and we were engaged. So very quickly, Fernando's plans of a short period of years in Australia and then retiring with the family to Portugal began to unravel.
There were already reasonable gaps between Margarida and Isabel, and João and Luiz, so that they had a family aged 21, 16, 14 and six and zero.
Moreover, in August 1967 Margarida and I were married, and Fernando had to assume that she would make her home in Australia. When Isabel got married in 1972 and João in 1975, it was clear that the Ribeiro children were going to settle in Australia – particularly as Luiz and Gabriela were effectively growing up here.
To top it off, the grandchildren had started to arrive – our son David was born in 1969, the first of 10 grandchildren to be born in Australia. Family was everything to the Ribeiros, and it had become clear that their destiny was to remain here in Australia.
There was, however, a moment of panic when, having grown up completely in Australia, and with all the family firmly settled here, Gabriela announced in 1987 that she was marrying a Portuguese! For a moment it seemed as if the Ribeiros' revised dream of a retirement in Canberra with all their children and grandchildren around them would also be lost. However, Gabriela and João settled in Canberra and, as related above, opened a restaurant. Indeed a few years later, when Sylvie was born, the demands of restaurant hours led Maria Fernanda to come out of retirement as a parent and for a few years share with Gabriela much of the responsibility for bringing up baby Sylvie.
By then, Fernando was retired and Maria Fernanda much more experienced in 'taming' children, so it was a very relaxed and loving environment in which Sylvie spent her early days, and she is very close to Maria Fernanda and Fernando. It is she that reminded me of the eccentricities of Fernando that must not be lost in a book such as this – such as eating peanuts with a spoon so that he did not get oil and salt on his fingers!
Despite being somewhat old to be 'mothering' a young child, Maria Fernanda knew the importance of fun for small children, and her mischievous side came out. Sylvie remembers, for instance, Maria Fernanda waiting till Fernando was watching, then pushing her far too high on a swing and then running underneath her.
To those of us watching on the sidelines, it was an evolving process. Both Margarida and Isabel recall a very strict parental regime, and, as I have said, watched with both amusement and amazement at what they saw as the latitude later given to Gabriela. While their escapades were very different, it seemed, too, that Luiz was less often in trouble than João. That said, when researching this, the children gave me many reminiscences of escapades that are perhaps best left untold. However, with Luiz's permission, there is one tale that I will tell here. Fernando was, very properly, concerned with his reputation as a diplomat, and the need for his children not to bring him into disrepute (hence the chicote for João's speeding escapade). However, he was, and is, very proud of his children and their achievements.
So when Luiz began to follow in his footsteps as a photographer, Fernando proudly brought out Luiz's album to show us all. I remember Margarida and I keeping a straight face as we admired the huge and carefully preserved marijuana leaf that formed the facing page of the album – purely as a botanical specimen of course.
It is, of course, easier to be a grandparent than it is to be a parent, but they have taken to the role like ducks to water. If they are loved and respected by their children, they are loved and revered by their grandchildren. Perhaps that is because Fernando's magic tricks held them in awe when they were young, but at every family function, and particularly at the special ones like 80th birthdays and 60th wedding anniversary, you can see the special regard they are held in by all their grandchildren – and there is no doubt that they will build the same bond with their four (so far) great-grandchildren.
But it has to be said that, given their lack of experience as 'hands-on' parents, they learnt quickly after coming to Australia, and it is testimony to them that the family remains as close-knit as it is today.
Telling the story of Fernando and Maria Fernanda as parents would not be complete without including the special function of the year – Christmas Day. While it has grown and changed over the years, for a long time now it has been a late afternoon gathering before dinner. The numbers, too, have fluctuated, with up to 24 in some years, sometimes including, at different times, Fernando's sisters, the odd mother-in-law, a new girlfriend of a grandson, friends of family members alone on Christmas Day – all are welcome and included.
Held either at 17 Ferdinand Street or, later, rotating between the homes of their children, everyone pitches in to produce enough food to feed an army – Portuguese yellow pork, meatloaf, pasties de bacalhau, chicken, fried rice, salads etc followed by Bebinca (coconut jelly custard) and other desserts, including of course the famous chocolate mousse which is usually served by Maria Fernanda so that no one person sneaks too much and it is shared equally. In more recent years, eating Fernando's spinach dip in cob bread has become almost compulsory as well.
Apart from eating, there are two special rituals that are followed every Christmas: the family photo; and the opening of the presents.
There is no doubt in my mind that if all of us had to identify one thing that most characterises Fernando, it is his Christmas family photo.
It is compulsory for everyone to be in it – including him. So using timers and remote controls for cameras on tripods, he lines everyone up and then runs and sits in the middle himself. But one photo is never enough – a child has moved – an older child puts fingers up behind a parent – someone plays a joke just as the flash goes off – or just in case anyway. So three, four, five times we all try and hold our smile for too long as Fernando runs back to get in without tripping over. To complicate matters further, recording the event has become contagious, and Isabel, João and perhaps Harry as well will have cameras on tripods next to Fernando's, and the flashes go off in bursts.
We all groan and complain, but in our hearts we know that if Fernando said 'no more photos this year' not only would we be shocked but secretly disappointed, because it is very much a part of our Christmas Day.
So, too is opening the presents. Small children in front, adults behind, an older child designated to hand out the presents – sometimes with a younger helper. Piles upon piles of torn wrapping paper surrounding little children with gifts somewhere (but less fun at that stage than the joy of unwrapping them). Despite futile attempts to control giving presents to the adults, mystery gifts appear, while at one stage Maria Fernanda managed to clear some storage space of unused silver by giving it to her daughters and daughters-in-law. Christmas has always been the focal point of the year for the extended Ribeiro family.
Their Macanese Inheritance
and Other Interests
Outside of Fernando's work and tennis, there have always been a few special aspects that come together to form the foundation of the Ribeiro's interests and activities – their Macanese inheritance; travel; eating out; family; and photo albums.
Casa de Macau
In 1962 Sociedada de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM), a company set up by a group of businessmen including Fernando's friend Stanley Ho, won monopoly rights from the Macau Government to conduct the gambling operations of Macau. In 1986 the monopoly was extended to 2001. At some stage during the monopoly, a condition was agreed to by STDM that it contribute to a fund to preserve the culture of Macau.
In 1989 STDM established the Fundação Oriente to administer the expenditure from that fund. One of the initiatives of the Fundação has been the establishment of locally based Macanese Associations in the countries and regions where the expatriate Macanese have settled, usually adopting the title of Casa de Macau.
A chapter of the Casa de Macau was established in Australia in 1990, and naturally Fernando and Maria Fernanda were amongst the first to join. They had, of course, remained in contact with many of the friends and relatives that had joined them in moving to Australia, and the Casa functions were a great place to catch up. Fernando became the first ACT representative and organised the first Casa functions in Canberra, which were always generously subsidized by the Casa funds. Apart from the family, Canberra functions were well supported by their friends, Philippe and Margie Yvanovich and Tony and Teresa Reis, and some of their children. Today Margarida is the ACT convenor and the group has grown somewhat, drawing in the second and third generations, and achieving the Casa's objectives by maintaining their interest in the Macanese heritage.
In 2006 their granddaughter Carla was awarded a Casa bursary to assist her with her tertiary studies. At the end of 2007, their granddaughter Sylvie was given assistance for a trip she made in January 2008 to work as a volunteer for a month in the Dominican Republic, South America.
Apart from functions and financial assistance, the Casa produces a regular newsletter which includes news and events, articles on the history of Macau or new developments in modern Macau. All too frequently it includes obituaries of the first-generation Macanese, as their generation ages.
|However, the biggest and most significant Casa activities held in Macau are the Encontros – reunions of the Macanese and their descendants who have migrated to UK, Australia, Canada, USA, Brazil, Portugal and Hong Kong and elsewhere. The people participating in the Encontro have their travel expenses subsided by both the Casa and the Fundação, and the Encontros attract large attendances from around the world. In Macau much of the organising is done by APIM, the institution whose first committee included Pedro Nolasco da Silva and Bernardino de Senna Fernandes. One can only wonder how they would view the legacy of their energy, and what they would think of Macau today, of the Encontros, and of their Australian descendants.|
The first of these Encontros was held in 1993 and attracted more than 1,200 delegates to Macau. Fernando, Maria Fernanda, Margarida and I were part of the Australian participants. It was a lavish spectacle, with dinners and receptions on a grand scale. One of the highlights was a dinner for the delegates, who were in tables of 10. The lights were turned off, and 120 waiters walked in each carrying a whole suckling pig with red lights shining from their eye sockets. To those of us from a different way of life, it was most impressive, as were the huge ice carvings and other trappings of celebration. Stanley Ho even brought one of the European opera companies out for a season of Turandot to coincide with it, and invited all the delegates.
That first Encontro was a wonderful experience for Fernando and Maria Fernanda. I remember on the first afternoon after we arrived, taking half an hour to walk one city block as they ran into friend after friend from US, Canada, Hong Kong or local. I cannot think how many rolls of film Fernando used, as reunions with friends were recorded for the future. We were struck by their enormous popularity, and the affection in which they were held, as friend after friend organised lunches and dinners to catch up with them.
On this occasion we had more time and no children with us, so they delighted in showing us more of their former homes, the tennis courts Fernando played on, and so on. Of special importance was a visit to Casa Branca – Maria Fernanda's parents' home – which has now been fully restored and is the office of the Monetary Authority of Macau. By explaining who she was, Maria Fernanda was able to talk our way in to visit parts of the house.
Also on that trip, the Macau Grand Prix Museum was open, and again we were able to visit and see memorabilia of her racing triumphs, again with a special welcome and attention when they found out who it was that was visiting.
After the Encontro, like so many of the visitors, we then spent some time in Hong Kong and the same process was repeated. I vividly remember walking in to the Clube de Recreio with Fernando when an elderly steward rushed up to embrace him – instantly recognising him even though he was a member he had not seen for some 30 years.
Fernando and Maria Fernanda have been to four Encontros now and, while everyone has been significant and enjoyable, the first was very special for them.
One amusing story about the third Encontro highlights just how well Fernando was known. Fernando and Maria Fernanda went via Singapore and the rest of us went with the Sydney group via Taipei. When in transit in Taipei, people began asking how we were connected to Macau. At times the explanations were complex until a friend from Melbourne (Bosco Correa) intervened to explain that Gabriela was 'the daughter of Bébé' (Fernando's childhood nick name). There was instant understanding. Soon all of us had amended our name tags to show 'daughter of Bébé' or 'son-in-law of Bébé' etc; even Bosco had the label 'friend of Bébé'. While it caused great amusement, it also simplified things greatly as everyone knew instantly who 'Bébé' was.
Also special, in a different way, was the Encontro in 2004, as 13 of the family travelled to Macau to be with them.
By 2004 Macau had changed dramatically, with reclaimed land, new bridges to the off shore islands, huge towers and casinos, and a population that is more than double that of the quiet territory they left in 1947. Yet the family houses are still there, and there were many things for Fernando and Maria Fernanda to show to their grandchildren. There is now a Macau Cultural Museum on Taipa Island which we visited, and Fernando and Maria Fernanda were delighted to see photos holding pride of place in the museum that included family members, friends and more distant relatives.
Apart from those special trips, since Fernando's retirement they have travelled so extensively that it would be impossible to chronicle all of their trips. However, all of them are faithfully documented in the 30 volumes of photo albums devoted just to them. One aspect of those travels is, however, important to our story. Many of their trips – to Canada and the US, to Portugal, or back to Hong Kong and Macau have revolved around family and the Macanese connection. They have visited relatives and friends in Portugal (Lisbon, Cascais, Algarve) Canada (Toronto, Vancouver) and the US (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and New Jersey).
And, in turn, many of those friends and relatives (or, in some cases, their children and grandchildren) have come to visit the Ribeiros. At one stage Fernando said, only half jokingly, that he loved living in Canberra so much and he spent so much time showing visitors around it, that perhaps he should become a local tour guide in his retirement.
Another one of their family interests is eating, and Fernando and Maria Fernanda love nothing more than going out for Chinese or to try a new restaurant. After Fernando retired, Maria Fernanda tells the story that she told him it was his turn to cook. However, every time she brought it up, she says he would reply 'Let's go out for dinner'.
Given their love for Chinese food and their ability to order in Cantonese, over the years Fernando and Maria Fernanda have built up friendships with the proprietors of Chinese restaurants all over Canberra. To this day we are still greeted and made welcome, and sometimes cooked special dishes in a few of them. They are known, too, in the Portuguese restaurant Vasco's, where several successful Casa de Macau lunches have been held.
Growing Old Gracefully
Growing old has been a wonderfully graceful period for the Ribeiros, and, like all of us, there is no clear starting point.
Maria Fernanda has not changed her energy or approach to life for many years, and Fernando was way too active when he retired to be described as getting old.
So for simplicity's sake, we will start this segment with two wedding anniversaries and two birthdays.
On their 50th wedding anniversary in 1995, Fernando and Maria Fernanda were thrilled to receive a blessing and message from the Pope, and celebrated with a special mass at their parish church in O'Connor. From there it was to the Lobby restaurant where 90 guests gathered and their children made speeches, as well as their old friend Sir Albert Rodrigues, who was visiting Australia from Hong Kong at the time.
Ten years later it was their 60th wedding anniversary and this time the congratulatory messages came not from the Pope but from the Queen, Governor General and Prime Minister. The luncheon party was held at the Canberra Yacht Club, and was different in that there was a generational change and it was the grandchildren who spoke and proposed the toast.
In between, in 2002 was Fernando's 80th birthday – again a major celebration – this time at the Gold Creek Country Club, and again guests (76 in all) came from Melbourne, Sydney, Nowra, Vincentia, and the South Coast, and messages were received from around the world.
Maria Fernanda, of course, had to be different. She celebrated her 80th birthday with a hot air balloon flight over Canberra (surviving a very bumpy capsize on landing) and a small surprise dinner at the Monkey Magic Chinese restaurant in Belconnen.
They have around them a small but close group of friends – Tony and Silvina Nascimento – the Portuguese contractor they met when he arrived to pour the concrete for their driveway in Campbell in 1963, and Philippe and Margie Yvanovich from their Hong Kong days. Two other local long time friends – Tony and Teresa Reis sadly died recently. But the death of old friends is something that Fernando and Maria Fernanda have come to terms with.
Despite having finally retired from tennis, Fernando still stays in contact and lunches regularly with his Wednesday veterans group. But even now they continue to make new friends, and last year flew to Norfolk Island with their near neighbours, Les and Hilda Clement, and they all enjoyed it so much they had a return trip this year.
Fernando has amazed us all with the way he had adapted to new technology – from digital cameras to iPods and the Internet, with a little bit of help from the more technologically literate members of the family, he has embraced the 21st century in all its forms – and even his mobile phone brings him the Foxtel news!
But it is the Internet and the email that have enhanced his life. And he is not the only one. He is now in regular contact with old friends from the Macau and Hong Kong days that are scattered around the world. Whether it be coloured slide shows about the new Macau that is unrecognisable to them, or risqué jokes that he does not show Maria Fernanda, every day Fernando receives lots of emails from around the world.
And Fernando still has his photography. When I was working on the draft of this book, I went to visit him and there he was, working on over 100 photos of his Norfolk Island trip to organise and put in an album. And he was researching the history of some of the buildings (on the Internet of course) just to ensure the accuracy of his descriptions under the photographs!
But it is the family that is their greatest pleasure. As I said at the start of their story – while Fernando and Maria Fernanda clearly loved their families, they had not been a major influence in shaping their lives and values. That is not the case in their own family. Not only do all of their children love and remain close to them, but it is very clear that their values and characteristics have passed on to their grandchildren as well, and they respect and try to emulate them in very important ways.
That is not to say that everything in the family runs smoothly – and despite all of our lectures about letting people make their own choices, Fernando still has sleepless nights when this grandchild buys a car that is 'too expensive' (or too fast or too noisy) or that grandchild does something else that would never have been done 50 years ago.
Throughout this story I have respectfully called them Fernando and Maria Fernanda. But to me they are, and have been for 40 years, Mãe and Pai. And as I said at the start, to Mãe and Pai, family is everything. I know of no other family where four generations travel so often to be together for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas or just as a family get together.
But they can rest assured that whatever their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren do, it will be tempered by the wisdom, example and love they have given to them.
It is a long way from post-war Macau to Nicholls, ACT, and when they started the journey together back in 1945, it was not a destination they would even have dreamt of. But is a destination that leaves them happy and fulfilled, and having achieved their hopes and ambitions for themselves and their family.
Their lives have been rich, varied, and interesting, and this book is intended to record the details of those lives for the family to understand, savour and enjoy. It is a story that deserved to be told. But the really important part of their lives will live on in the impact they have had on their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In early 2007, when I was having trouble researching some of the early family histories, I wrote unsuccessfully to some of the Macau Government cultural institutions (the Archives, the Library etc). In 2007 it was an Encontro year, and Margarida and I suggested that we go with Fernando and Maria Fernanda and combine another Encontro with some family research. Fernando and Maria Fernanda were not enthusiastic as they had already been to four, and they find the standing and the crowds increasingly tiring for them.
They were still interested, however, and we decided that we would go – but separately and before the Encontro. So in October the four of us left for five days in Hong Kong and five days in Macau. I think all of us suspected that this would probably be the last big overseas trip for Fernando and Maria Fernanda, and they found it so tiring that I am sure it will be.
It was only three years since we had all been to both places, and we did not expect to see very much change. This proved to be the case in Hong Kong. As always there were new buildings going up, new roadworks and the ever expanding network of above-ground pedestrian walkways in the Hong Kong island side of Central District was very impressive.
But in many ways it has not changed – especially for Fernando and Maria Fernanda, as they still have good friends there. One of those couples – Sir Roger and Margaret Lobo – took us to lunch at the Hong Kong Club, and it still had an air of colonial gentility and quiet affluence. We spent an afternoon and an evening with their good friends (and Fernando's cousins) Norma and Leonardo Remedios, and drove around many familiar landmarks and places, and their children still play prominent roles in the Hong Kong expatriate community.
The Star Ferry still runs, the same shops still sell the same goods at the Stanley Markets. The Peninsula Hotel still transports its VIP guests from the airport in Rolls Royces – and outside, the same touts try to sell you copy watches or introduce you to tailors.
So for Fernando and Maria Fernanda it was a very pleasant trip with much that was familiar and many happy associations.
The contrast to Macau could not have been greater. The Stanley Ho monopoly on gambling franchises ended in 2001, and the big players from overseas (Wynns, MGM, Packer and others) could enter the market. In 2004 there were a few 'traditional size' new casinos, but the mega casinos were still in the planning stage. Today the 3,000-room Venetian is in full swing, the massive Grand Lisboa in the shape of a giant lotus flower has still to complete its top structure, but is open for business downstairs, with a huge number of gaming tables, and across the road, the Wynns casino stands out as well.
We were told that with a population of only 450,000, Macau played host to 22 million tourists in the past year and probably 21 million of them were gamblers!
It was fascinating to see the dramatic changes and to visit edifices like the Venetian – with 18,000 staff, massive gaming rooms, a separate food court, and singing gondoliers taking tourists for rides on a choice of two different canals – one outside the casino and one on the third floor of it as well! But if you are not a gambler, then Macau is not really interested in you. For example, we stayed in a mid-range casino/hotel. There were 88 individual one-kilo gold bars set in the floor of the entrance lobby – but no chairs for hotel guests to sit on in the lobby! A Romanian girl dressed in an imitation ermine cape was in the lobby to polish guests' shoes – but none of the reception staff could tell you where to find a good Macanese restaurant nearby.
Many things are, of course, the same – the family houses were unchanged from past visits, and the shops in the streets between the ruins of Sao Paulo and Leal Senado Square are still the same. But the historic Leal Senado building has the name of 'Instituto Para os Assuntos Cívicos e Municipais' in Portuguese and Chinese above the entrance. It is accurate and pragmatic – but it lacks the history and romantic sound of the 'Leal Senado'.
When we went to follow up on the family research, it seemed to us almost as if the current administration has taken the view 'Old Portuguese Administration – what old Portuguese Administration?'
But it was the little things that Fernando and Maria Fernanda found a bit sad and frustrating – such as not being understood in their fluent Cantonese because most of the taxi drivers were from the north and spoke Mandarin. Even in 2004, the historic Solmar café used to be the gathering point for old 'Macau boys' to have morning coffee and talk about the good old days. When we went there this time there was no one there, and their traditional table was not even set. They have all gone to live elsewhere, or are too old now to go, or have passed away.
I do not want to overstate the negatives, as there were also good things and nostalgic memories and treasures found. The Macau Archives which we visited are now located in the high school that Fernando and Maria Fernanda attended, and the stairs they walked up every day have been restored. We found, and were given access to, the garden where Count Senna Fernandes' statue stands. We went to the Grand Prix Museum and, when the staff discovered who Maria Fernanda was, she was treated like a VIP and made to feel very welcome. And Fernando took us to dinner for roast pigeon at Fat Siu Lau restaurant in the old quarter – a restaurant he ate at 70 years ago with the same recipe for roast pigeon. It is in the same premises and still run by the grandchildren of the original owner.
I am glad we all went on the trip, and the realisation that it would, indeed, be their last visit made it special and memorable for Fernando and Maria Fernanda. But the Macau of today is not the Macau they knew. They are still very proud of their Macanese heritage, and their memories of Macau are vivid, happy and strong, but they have no desire to return. Instead they will encourage their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy the family films and the other records of that unique heritage.
In the Preface, I accept full responsibility for the research and interpretation of the facts in the contents of this book. However, I drew on, or was influenced by, a number of books, photo collections and journal articles.
The three-volume book Famílias Macaenses written by Dr Jorge Forjaz in 1996 was a fundamental source of information about the early Macau families, and has been drawn on extensively. Henrique d'Assumpção also provided extracts from his Macanese Family Tree database as well as offering encouragement and support.
Maria Christina da Silva Telles Nolasco sent a collection of Nolasco da Silva photos to Maria Fernanda in October 2007, and I have drawn on that collection for some of the photos in the book. She is also helping with further family research in Portugal. The balance of the photos have come from Fernando's own extensive collection, and mine. Paul Chapman of Chapman Images helped greatly with the preparation of the photos for printing.
Historical matters outside the family are based on reading a range of sources:
Discovering Macau – A Visitor Guide, compiled by John Clemens in 1972;
Macau: How, what, when and where, published by the Macau Tourist Information Bureau (undated);
Visions of China: Stories from Macau, David Brookshaw (ed.) 2002; The Western Pioneers and Their Discovery of China, J.M. Braga 1949; Hong Kong under Japanese Occupation, Robert S. Ward 1949;
'The Macanese Anthropology – History – Ethnology', Review of Culture No. 20 (2nd Series), Instituto Cultural de Macau 1994;
as well as a range of websites, including those of the Fundação Oriente, APIM, everyculture.com and Casa de Macau.
Brendan O'Keefe taped oral history interviews with Fernando and Maria Fernanda in 2006.