This man is searching for his dad after 68 years
REX Smith's life was turned on its head when a family secret closely guarded for 68 years was unexpectedly revealed to him - the man he had called 'dad' all his life and whose name is on his birth certificate, wasn't his father at all.
And frustratingly, all efforts by Rex to find his biological father, or anything about him, since hearing that shock news three years ago, have produced a blank.
Indeed, a search of all available records so far has failed to locate one mention of the name of the man said to be his father.
All Rex has is that name and a black and white photo of the man, kept hidden from him by an aunty for all those years - and a suspicion that the name may have been false.
Which is why he is now going public with his story, his final option he believes, in his bid to unravel the secret, one that his mother, Delma and her husband Fred, the man Rex thought was his father, both took to their graves, Delma in 1987 and Fred in 2008.
The revelation that he was the result of a brief wartime romance came after a chance meeting at the Lismore Square Shopping Centre with an uncle he had not seen or spoken to for two years.
It was on July 15, 2011 when Rex, a long-time Byron Bay resident, was killing time at the shopping centre waiting for his car to be serviced, bumped into Fred's brother Reg.
Joined by Reg's wife Jean shortly after, they were happily chatting away catching up on family news when, as Rex recalls, one thing led to another when Jean "literally blurted out" the shock news that Fred was not his real father.
"Her exact words were, 'You know you were never his'," Rex said.
"In my head I asked myself, 'Did I hear what I just heard? Fred was not my father?'.
"I can't say my head wanted to explode, but at the same time it was like an earthquake was happening.
"It rocked me to the core. I don't think I said anything. I was stunned."
With his head still spinning from the shock revelation, the driver of a courtesy car from the dealership where his car was being serviced, arrived to take him back to his car.
His uncle gently suggested he go with the driver and the conversation ended.
"Of course my mind was racing and apart from what I was just told, I wanted to get home to my wife Marj," he said.
"When I told her the story, of course, she was shocked to say the least."
After phoning his three adult children, two daughters and a son, to tell them of the startling revelation, he called Delma's younger sister, Jenny, who, after confirming the story, told him his biological father was a man named Dallas Morgan, a serviceman who had been based at the RAAF training station at Evans Head 40-km away,
Jenny said he should call Delma's older sister, Merle, who would be able to tell him the full story and who also possibly had a photo of Dallas.
Rex began the search to find his biological father, with the first step a visit to his aunty Merle at Lismore.
Merle confirmed the story and on a page of an old photo album she produced, there were three separate photos - one of Delma, aged about 20, one of Dallas Morgan and one of Rex aged about five.
Rex said he felt "total elation" and a feeling of "release" when he looked at the photo of his biological father for the first time.
Merle told Rex his mother had met Dallas at a regular Friday night dance at The Riviera Dance Hall near the river in Magellan Street Lismore.
Merle, who accompanied Delma to many of the dances which were popular with servicemen, said Delma was a housekeeper for a Lismore doctor and lived in a small flat behind the surgery.
It was to this flat that she and the serviceman went to after one Friday night dance and it's where Rex was conceived.
Merle said Dallas Morgan had wanted to "do the right thing" and marry Delma, 19 at the time, when it was discovered she was pregnant. But she turned him down.
Why she did so is unclear, but three months later they parted company and never saw each other again.
But Dallas did leave a reminder of his time in Delma's life. For whatever reason, he gave Merle a photograph of himself dressed in an RAAF summer uniform and asked her to give it to the child when he or she was old enough to understand what had happened. She never saw or heard from Dallas again.
It was that photo that stared out at Rex from the photo album.
In mid-1943, with Delma back at the family farm at Tregeagle, near Lismore, out of the public eye, Fred's mother Rose Smith and Delma's mother, Minnie Wilson, who were neighbours and friends, "arranged" for Fred to marry Delma.
As Merle tells the story, Fred, a soldier in the Australian Army and who had recently returned from the Middle East, agreed to marry Delma, knowing she was carrying the child of another man.
Fred and Delma knew each other and he was apparently "keen" on her.
They were married in July, 1943 and shortly after, Fred was sent to New Guinea where he served until the war ended.
Rex was born on November 19, 1943 at a long-gone Lismore private hospital with Delma swearing all family members to secrecy about the circumstances of his birth.
And given that Fred and Delma each came from 10-children families, it's remarkable the secret was never revealed to Rex over those 68 years.
When Fred returned home in 1945, he and Delma set up home in Little Keen Street, Lismore then later in Brunswick Street and in 1947, Delma gave birth to a daughter, Rex's only sibling.
Rex recalls Fred was an "incredible" worker, at times holding down three jobs, including one as a labourer with Lismore Council.
"He was a regular father. Went to work, came home. Drank and smoked a lot," said Rex.
"I turned out to be a bit of a sportsman from as young as I can remember and played every sport I could.
"Looking back I recall how he didn't want to go to many of my sporting events. I'm not putting him down. I just see it a lot clearer now.
"He never whacked me. It was my mother who was the real disciplinarian. Maybe she had told him he was not to touch me.
"It has taken this news for me to see now that he sort of stood in the background.
"That's the way he treated me until I went away."
While Rex, who left home at 15 to join the Bank of NSW (Westpac), said while they were never close he could not recall one incident that would have made him suspect Fred wasn't his father.
His search for his biological father, including checks of RAAF service records in Canberra, births, deaths and marriages records, newspaper death notices and ancestry.com found no trace of a Dallas Morgan.
The task was made more difficult when Rex learned that apart from basic service records and some course photographs from that time, all records of courses and who had participated in them at the Evans Head training station, were dumped at sea after the war.
Dr Richard Gates, president of both the Evans Head Living Museum and the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee, who has been helping Rex in his search, said 5500 servicemen trained at what was known as the No.1 Bombing and Gunnery School and later the No.1 Air Observers School at Evans Head during the war.
He said 1100 of those men were killed during the war and only about 100 of them were still alive.
After speaking to one of those surviving men now living on the Gold Coast, and given the lack of success over finding any mention of a Dallas Morgan in official records, Rex is not discounting the idea the name was false.
The former serviceman, whose name Rex didn't want to be made public to protect him from any possible embarrassment, said he was aware of some servicemen at the time giving false names when chatting up girls. The man, now in his 90s, said he had not heard of a Dallas Morgan while training at Evans Head.
Dr Gates, who is still following new leads for Rex, didn't believe giving a false name was a common practice among servicemen, but "it did happen".
Rex hasn't given up hope of discovering his father's real name and finding out whether he had a family of his own.
He really hopes someone will recognise the man in the photograph.
"I'm really hoping to find out if I have more brothers and sisters," he said.