Noel Gwydir Kirkby (1905-1987)
Stella Maria O’Neill (1909-1987)

Stella Maria O’Neill, known fondly by all as Bunty, was the youngest of John O’Neill & Minnie Crimmins surviving children. She was born on 04 Jul 1909 and married Noel Gwydir Kirkby (b. 17 Jul 1905) in Armidale on 15 Nov 1926.

Bunty’s story is best told by their son, Darryl:

Bunty was born in Armidale on 11 Apr 1909. She spent her early years at Metz, a village some 40 km east of Armidale on the main road to Dorrigo. Virtually nothing exists at Metz today, only signs of ruin. Her father John was the innkeeper there. They moved to Georges Creek, another small village 75 km west of Kempsey on the Kempsey-Armidale road, but at the bottom of the New England Ranges escarpment. The Macleay River heads in this area.

John was the postmaster there, and as there was a police station and lockup there it suggests there was a hotel also at some point, which maybe had attracted John from Metz. [Ed. From other accounts, John took his liquor license from Metz and provided refreshments from his home.] There was also landholding involved for some farming on the creek, and running some cattle in the adjacent hills. Bunty had loving fond memories of her childhood at Georges Creek and was very close to her two brothers Pat and Mick, and often related stories of these years. She was the young “kid” sister of the adventurous young Pat and Mick. They would go riding sometimes, and as there were only two saddles, the boys took them and if Bunty wanted to go with them she had to go bareback – so that’s what she did – there was no way she was staying behind because of a saddle!!!

Bunty occasionally spoke of the sadness her mother went through when her father died, and how her mother would walk around the house late at night when the kids were all asleep and she would be weeping. Bunty’s mother eventually died of a broken heart, twelve months after her father, and Bunty, a young girl of 11 years. She went to live with her eldest sister May and her husband Leslie Johnson, who was a school teacher at Mullumbimby, for a few years and then to Our Lady of Mercy College in Armidale to complete her schooling, following which she commenced training as a nurse in Armidale with her cousin Margaret Ellen O’Neill, better known as Madge (daughter of William O’Neill and Annie Maud McEwan). Madge’s eldest sister, Mary Mozelle O’Neill, better known as Mossie, had married a Stock and Station Agent in Moree named [Roger] Hurbert Halstead, so the two partly trained nurses decided to go to Moree to get a job at the Moree Hospital and be near cousin/sister Mossie.

They subsequently married Moree locals, Bunty to Noel Kirkby in 1926 and Madge to Clarrie Doran, a young grazier from Garah, 40 km north of Moree. Bunty had three children in Moree –

01. Ronald David (b. 27 Apr 1927)

02. Peter Gerald John (b. 23 Jan 1931)

03. Darryl Gregory (b. 23 Feb 1936)

The family moved to Sydney in 1940 when Noel joined the army at the beginning of World War II. Bunty’s home then became an address well known to most of her family – 244 Oberon St Coogee – a small 2 bedroom flat in an old building with the greatest views of Coogee Beach, the coastline and ocean – and a seriously bad leaking roof etc etc. Noel was a party man and most of Bunty’s family would have experienced the hospitality of Noel and Bunty on any number of occasions.

That was her home for the next 20 years, which saw everything – wedding receptions, sickness, happiness, sadness, wakes; ups and downs, serious illness and so on, all with the same leaking roof and nowhere to go in wet times, and at times up to 7 or 8 people there as short to medium term occupants and residents sleeping on the floor or fold up camp stretches, etc etc – oh, and a dog!!!

But 99% survived, and this was a rental flat all that time, and plenty of times behind the rent, needing a whip-around with the hat to raise the rent!

About 1962 Bunty and Noel moved to Beverly Park (near Kogarah) where they lived for about 10 years, and when Noel decided to retire and give up parties they moved to Nambucca Heads about 1973 and built a very nice home overlooking the river and ocean. They both died in Nambucca Heads, Noel aged 82 of cancer on 17 Feb 1987, and Bunty aged 78 only four months later in June 1987 of a broken heart after 61 years of marriage.

Their eldest son Ronald suffered multiple doses of rheumatic fever in his early teens which left him with a defective heart, which eventually claimed his life at age 34 on 11 Feb 1959, leaving a young wife Betty [Margaret Baker] and three young children aged 1, 2 and 3 years.

01. Deborah Lyn (b. 17 Jul 1955)

02. Brett David (b. 19 Mar 1957)

03. Stephanie Margaret (b. 17 Jul 1958)

Bunty and Noel’s ashes are located in a memorial Wall at the Funeral Directors Premises and Chapel in Macksville, side by side. Ronald is buried in Musswellbrook and his family still reside there.

Noel Gwyder Kirkby enlisted during WWII ( Service Number – N272382, however his service record is not yet available on line). In the 1931 electoral rolls Noel is described as a station hand at Bellata, about half way between Narrabri and Moree, NSW. In 1936 the couple are listed at Edward St, Moree, at which time Noel is described as a radio dealer. He is still listed as a soldier in the 1949 electoral rolls, at which time the couple resided at 244 Oberon St, Randwick, as Darryl described above.

Darryl at the piano in party mode, with Noel’s old friend Gordon Delaney

Bunty & Noel Kirkby with Ronald, Peter & Darryl, Christmas at Moree c.1939

Ronald, proposing a toast at Darryl’s 21st

The good old days of Sydney night clubbing with Noel in typical party mode

Anticlockwise: Noel’s sister Ollie; Noel & Bunty; Ronald & friend, Gabrielle Kelly; Rex Williams (Ollie’s son) & partner; friends Len & Billie Smith.

The man in the left hand corner is John (Jack) O’Neill, one of PJ O’Neill and Mary Hough’s 14 children. At one stage Jack O’Neill was a manager of the Tatlers Hotel in George St Sydney. Alongside Jack is a friend, Margaret Connor.

Other photos involving Bunty can be viewed on her sibs’ pages: Norn, Mick.

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