Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My father


As I sit in the January heat, unpacking memories, I often come across my father's odds and ends. Today is the 9th anniversary of his sudden passing, on another very warm day in Temora in 1999. I had been in the US for little more than 4 months when I found myself on a plane headed from my first white Christmas, back to the searing heat of the Australian bush (44C as I recall).

I have a small blue plastic crate, filled with slides, photos, newspaper clippings and testaments of how others felt about him. As I was shuffling through it today, I found his unused passport holder, and folded up within that, the eulogy I wrote the night before his funeral service. Over the last few years of travelling around Europe, I have uncovered something of the lives of my more remote ancestors. Now, regrounded in Sydney, it's good to retell that more recent story...

On a day like today, when I stand here to speak of my father and friend, I had hoped to be much older and wiser, but instead I feel more surely foolish and uncertain.

Over the last four months we exchanged many email messages across the Pacific, and I learned more than ever how great a communicator Dad was as he sent very lively letters of recent happy times.

So now we come together to celebrate Graham's life, and tell his story, and I offer a few glimpses into that life, both from personal memories and as many of you may remember him:
  • He was a man who could talk to anyone. Never afraid to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, he quickly impressed and charmed with his genuine interest, candour and passion. Dad always let you know what he was most passionate about within moments of meeting. This week I've received many calls and emails from those who met him briefly only once or twice, but who remembered with amazing clarity so many details of their conversations.
  • Dad was a meticulous craftsman who made wonderful models of trains, ships and aeroplanes. His attention to detail expressed itself in so many other ways.
  • Graham was a father who never told you how to do things but who led by example. I distinctly remember the day nearly twenty years ago he returned from a meeting with his employers who had asked him to resign because his standards were too high. His principled commitment in such circumstances has been a continuing influence to me and I'm sure to many present.
  • He was a father who was open and not afraid to show his feelings. Compassion, generosity of spirit and laughter were some of his greatest gifts. Laughing together with him over a joke or a movie was one of those intense pleasures that my friends often remarked on, especially as we set each other off laughing until we were each too weak to move.

Lismore Baths 1958

When Dad left school, he joined the CBC Bank, and spent several years in short assignments in places such as Beckom and Henty. From there he moved on to Head Office in Martin Place, Sydney, where as star swimmer in the interbank swim events he met my mother Judy. She also worked as her father did in the CBC Bank. Both my parents had grown up in the bush and were keen to leave the city. After I was born we moved on to Gosford, where, a couple of years later, a second son, Paul was born.

Early 1940s, with his mother on Bondi Beach

Around 1968 we moved to Queanbeyan, followed by a move in 1970 to Bourke, where Dad developed his skills in putting on golf greens made of sand. After exactly two years in Bourke, he was appointed manager of the newly built Urunga branch, just south of Coffs Harbour.

This stay was brief - only 10 months, while we lived in temporary accommodation about the size of two caravans - but it gave him a chance to renew his boyhood love of sailing, and for us to share many afternoons fishing from the pier or tackling the North Coast surf.

Someone surely heard of our need for larger living quarters, so we crossed the state again to Temora in early 1973. Now we struggled to fill the 6 bedroom residence attached to the bank in Hoskins Street. Here Dad further developed his passion for golf, and he and I began work building a Mirror dinghy on the back verandah - a fact I'm sure that was not lost on 99% of customers who came through the bank doors.

For both Graham and Judy, years of moving between towns had taken their toll, so after 5 years here they decided to settle in Temora to enable a permanent home for my brother and I.

Sadly, while both our parents became increasingly involved in community work, domestic turmoil and employment uncertainty initiated a painful chapter in our lives which effectively split the immediate family in two. To his credit, Graham worked up until the end for a day when the family could sit down together, working to overcome misunderstanding without attaching blame.

Importantly he rarely missed the opportunity to travel to Sydney to share in family occasions with his 10 brothers and sisters, 17 nieces and nephews, many of whom are here today.

I suspect many of us come to truly know our parents' lives in reverse order. One day after adult life has crept up on us, we recognise ourselves in them, and we come to a real understanding of what their lives mean to us. From this, we begin to impose some meaning on the events of a thousand childhood memories and faded photographs.In my father's private world he was always flying - through air or across the water. His photographs were always of friends, family, flying and sailing. Here is a poem that he requested should be read today. It was written by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jnr., of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who was killed in a flying accident nearly sixty years ago.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Finally, much has been said this week about the large projects he has worked for in this community, but so much more is spoken in the eyes of so many friends and acquaintances who came to pay their respects. This has been an especially touching experience for all the family.

I've spent the last few days in Temora, sifting through some of the smaller traces of Dad's life. It was most telling to find his new passport and airline ticket holder, part of his preparations to join me for an extended stay in Seattle in but a few short months. That would have been his first overseas journey, so now I take him in my heart, wherever I go.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Michael, great to meet you last night. Was interested to see your family lived in Lismore for a while - my hometown - I recognised the old Lismore baths before the recent makeover. And Bourke (I lived there 88 and 89). And Temora (I lived in Wagga 91-95). Nice pics, BTW. James