OSBORNE Frank (1922-2014)

President 1974-1975, 1980-1981, 1984-1985, 1997-1998. Life Member

Francis William (Frank) Osborne was born on 22 July 1922 at a private hospital in Glen Innes to James Osborne and Elizabeth Florence (nee McPaul). Raised on the family farm Midway, about 6 miles outside Glen Innes, Frank’s father ran a dairy herd as well as producing crops such as maize, oats, potatoes and pumpkins. 

His paternal great-grandparents were Robert Osborne and Rebecca (nee Musgrave) who arrived on the Adam Lodge in 1837. Robert started business in Wollongong before 1850 as a carpenter and undertaker. The undertaking business continued in the Wollongong area until about 1927.  Frank’s grandfather, James Osborne, was born in Wollongong in 1839 and married Mary Jane Cochrane in 1864 at Wollongong. They moved to the Bega area and then to Glenn Innes.

Frank's mother, Elizabeth Florence (nee McPaul), was the daughter of James McPaul and his wife Mary Ann Bower who first settled in the Charcoal (Unanderra) area before moving to the Bega area. 

Frank joined the Society in 1971 soon after arriving in Wollongong.  He was an enthusiastic member from the start and he used his manual arts skills around the newly established Museum at Market Square.  Frank’s rural background enabled him to understand the use and importance of many of the items donated especially agricultural equipment.  He served as museum curator for three years and was a proverbial font of knowledge about how small mixed farms operated in the days when horses were still a main source of power.

As well as his stint as curator, Frank was for many years a member of the Society’s board of management.  He served a number of terms as vice-president and was president on four separate occasions (1974-1975, 1980-1981, 1984-1985, 1997-1998). 

Frank was the very model of a traditional primary school teacher.  He possessed an enquiring mind, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and was eager to share and transmit what he knew.  Frank was also a stickler for correct grammar, spelling and expression.  His dedication and application was such that at times he was the very epitome of a pedant.  His skill as a proof reader improved the veracity and readability of many Society and other publications.  

Some authors were not fortunate enough to have the benefit of Frank’s skills.  More than one earned red pencil marks when Frank discovered flaws in their works.  Sometimes they were spelling mistakes, sometimes lapses in grammar or - sin of sins a failure to verify the accuracy of their information.

In 1998, Frank reviewed a book about early Wollongong and declared it ‘a really interesting story’.  There were, however, aspects of the book that offended him particularly as the mistakes related to Frank’s Osborne ancestors. In his review, Frank wrote “Despite the obvious quality of the book, there are a few inaccuracies which may trouble the local reader, sometimes caused by mixing the generations in such a large number of generations, at others by confusing the historical background.”  In his inevitable style, Frank then proceeded to enumerate the errors and correct them.  He even recommended that a larger type font would have been better.  In his defence, Frank tempered his critique with fairness. He ended that particular review with : “Apart from minor glitches, which after all are almost non-existent when compared to our own Bulletin, this book is a very worthwhile account of Wollongong’s foremost pioneer.” (IHS  Bulletin May/June 1998) 

Frank’s academic training and his enquiring mind were put to good use by the Society.  He wrote articles for the Bulletin, researched heritage issues and gave numerous talks to the Society.  Indeed, Frank would step forward whenever a guest speaker wasn’t available.  At a moment’s notice he would produce slides of the latest trip he and Jean had made, or he’d talk about some topic that he had researched.  His talks were packed with interesting and sometimes arcane information that Frank had gathered.  So extensive was his knowledge that Frank sometimes had difficult containing his talks to 30 minutes.

Frank was descended from the pioneering Osborne family whose commercial and other activities helped to develop Illawarra.  It was a large family and members inevitably married into many of the other pioneer families.  Researching the history and contribution of the Osbornes became an enjoyable part of Frank’s retirement.  He could recall the activities of almost every member of his intricate genealogy.  This knowledge provided him with the content for three booklets published by the Society.  Frank also wrote about other issues including the sectarian tensions associated with the establishment of the first national school in Wollongong during the second half of the Nineteenth Century.

When the Society celebrated its diamond jubilee in 1994, Frank contributed by writing about the formation of the Society and the highlights of its history.  Frank represented the Society in many forums including the Heritage Advisory Committee of Wollongong City Council.  His extensive knowledge of local history, his ability to research issues quickly and with accuracy, and his lack of reticence in putting forward his argument made him a valuable member of any committee on which he served.

In 1978, there was controversy regarding the location of the hut where the first five land grants were issued in 1816.  A misinterpretation of contemporary sources had led to a belief that the hut was located at Port Kembla.  This resulted in agitation for the commemorative plaque to be moved from the corner of Smith and Harbour Streets.  Frank took up the cudgel.  He researched the sources meticulously and proved conclusively that the hut mentioned in the sources was that erected for Charles Throsby and that plaque was as close to the correct location as possible.  In later years, Frank used GPS technology to reinforce his research outcomes.  His prodigious memory enabled him to recite the coordinates and all relevant data whenever the subject of the plaque was raised.

As he aged, and particularly after Jean’s death, Frank’s practical involvement in the Society lessened.  In recognition of his past contribution, Frank was made a patron of the Society in 2008.  I had very little involvement with the Society from 1997 until 2011 as I was working in Sydney.  Soon after my return, I met Frank at a function.  I’d been warned that he sometimes had memory difficulties so I went up to him and started to introduce myself.  Frank looked up at me with an owlish look and said that of course he knew who I was.  Not only that, but he proceeded to talk about various heritage issues that he thought were of concern to the Society.

One of those issues was the demolition of buildings around Wollongong and the loss appreciation of heritage.  As many of you will know, Frank was a keen photographer.  He documented many buildings around the district.  These images are important reminders of buildings that have been replaced as part of development and progress.  They will be utilised in a digitisation project that is underway between the Society and the University and City Libraries.

Frank made a substantial contribution to the Illawarra Historical Society and to the preservation and promotion of local heritage.  For over forty years, Frank was there whenever he was needed.  When there were difficulties convincing someone to stand for president, Frank would volunteer.  If an issue needed research, Frank would do it if there were no other takers.  If a speaker couldn’t be found or failed to turn up, Frank would step in.  

Frank’s self-effacing nature, his quiet sense of humour, his erudition and his generosity of spirit were qualities that made him a delight to know.  His contribution to the Museum and his publications will be enduring testimonies.  The Society was fortunate to have Frank as a member, as an office bearer and as a patron.  It is a pity that we couldn’t clone him but we are thankful for the time Frank gave us. Frank died on Christmas Day 2014.

John Shipp

January 2015