GRAHAM Joyner has always been fascinated by the past.
As a child he used to wonder about the ornaments around the family house, but as he said, the children were told to play outside.
These days, Mr Joyner pursues his family’s history through letters, ledgers and portraits with a passion for uncovering lost ancestors and their life stories.
It would be hard to imagine this genealogical adventurer had just turned 90.
Mr Joyner celebrated his birthday on June 21, joined by friends and family at a lunch.
“It was a great day,” Mr Joyner said.
He said his children and grandchildren told stories of his life in song and that it was a joyous event.
“It was just beautiful,” Patricia Joyner, Graham’s wife, said.
Mr Joyner has always placed great importance on family, and in his later years, he’s been “chasing” his family back through time.
“When you search for people, they come back to you, they want to be found,” Mr Joyner said.
“We all have our history and it’s all got interesting things in it.
“Things we weren’t told because it didn’t seem interesting or it was a family matter.”
Mr Joyner’s exploration has uncovered astonishing family members.
One was a master mariner who brought the first ship into the Brisbane River, a model of which now sits in the Brisbane City Council museum.
Another was drowned near Moreton Island in the shipwreck of the Sovereign in 1847.
One was even discovered in a biscuit tin.
When the family house, the same family house Mr Joyner marvelled at as a boy, was being sold, Mr Joyner came into possession of an old book found in a biscuit tin.
It turned out to be his great, great grandfather’s common law book from the 1830s.
Some pages looked entirely alien, written in shorthand, a notational language from the era that Mr Joyner has been unable to translate.
Among the notes in the book, his great, great grandfather wrote down the ship-names and dates of each of his voyages, making it possible to trace his journey – eventually to Australia.
Mr Joyner has been collecting as much historical material as he can and hopes to write enough on his ancestors to turn into a book someday.
But Mr Joyner’s own life has been a historical journey itself.
Mr Joyner was born in North Queensland a year before the Great Depression.
He moved to a forestry town outside Gympie in the late 1930s where his father worked.
“In those days, there were none of the required facilities a town should have – no electricity, no running water, no bitumen roads – a little country town,” he said.
Towards the end of the Second World War, Mr Joyner came to Brisbane to study and took a job in the Commonwealth Bank, where he met his wife Patricia.
“Very nice of the bank to provide me with a job and a lovely wife,” he said.
“We lived at Banyo and we built our house, and raised our four children there.”
Mr Joyner worked at the bank for 20 years before moving on to a position at National Mutual Life.
“That meant I moved from one side of the post office to the other side of the post office,” he said.
But, switching sides of the post office still had him about the same distance from St Stephen’s Cathedral.
That changed in 1984.
A friend of Mr Joyner’s named Dan Flynn, who happened to be the general secretary of the Archdiocesan Office, offered him a position managing properties for the archdiocese.
“It was a time of growth in the archdiocese, a lot of parishes needed to be broken up and much more land was needed, and that’s what I was interested in,” he said.
Mr Joyner said he enjoyed that job the most.
“There were lots of funny little things that used to happen when I was there,” he said.
One odd job blossomed into a life-long affiliation – the St Stephen Cathedral guides.
Mr Joyner said Mr Flynn was the first cathedral guide because any odd job that wasn’t assigned to others fell on him.
“But he was a lot busier than I was, so he asked if I could do it,” he said.
“I had the opportunity of being around the place all through the stages of redevelopment of the cathedral and being a naturally keen historian, it all sort of sunk in.”
Mr Joyner became a prodigious guide having been a witness to most of the cathedral’s changes.
“He is a true Catholic gentleman,” Mrs Joyner said.
Moreover, he was a gentleman and a scholar.
Mr Joyner stressed the significance of learning scripture to his faith.
“When we lived at Banyo, being close to the seminary, we used to go to scripture studies with Fr Bill O’Shea,” Mr Joyner said.
“He was a marvellous teacher.”
Mr Joyner said when the laity learnt scripture and built a broader understanding of its context, “it’s a step in the right direction”.
Travel has also been a big part of Mr Joyner’s life.
He and Mrs Joyner said they’ve been “everywhere”.
He’s been chauffeured around South Africa by an archbishop, unwittingly met an English lord on a train and Mrs Joyner held St Pope John Paul II’s hand.
His long life has also been proof of the old adage about “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”.
Mr Joyner said his key to long life was a daily lunch consisting of an apple, a dry biscuit and a boiled Vegemite drink.