Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Scattering

This Sunday we will scatter Dad's ashes. I just want it over. As far as I'm concerned I have said my goodbyes and I don't really need to do any more. This is for Mum, not something I need to do for me.

Deb's son Chase wants to be there and her other boys will make a decision later. I don't think Karen's will go and I'm sure ours won't. I don't really want to drag the grief up again.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Box Hill South - Creeks and Creatures

The suburb we grew up in was probably best described as middle class. When we moved there from Merlynston the houses were springing up in an estate where there were no made roads or footpaths [they were to come later on].

Funny when you look back on childhood how the summers always seemed hotter, the winters colder, and the rain heavier.

Richardson Street where we lived was covered in pot holes - in summer it was dusty, in winter, wet and muddy, and on those really cold mornings the puddles in the potholes would freeze. There were no gutters, instead open drains which were a constant source of fascination. In the spring they were lined with waist high weeds in which lived caterpillars of different sizes and colours and the water that flowed constantly down the hill fed by the drains from houses had weird red worms that lived in it. And of course there were rats, which used to scarper when Dad would pour a couple of gallons of petrol down the drain and then light it with a match each weekend.

Along Eley Road there was a paddock covered with piles of clean fill probably dumped from the housing estate. It was an adventure playground for us kids - great trails to ride the bikes on great places to have yonnie and brinnie fights with the other kids in the neighbourhood. For those who don't remember what yonnies and brinnies were, they were stones, of all shapes and sizes and it was great fun hiding behind the mounds of dirt and chucking hand grenades at the other kids. Remarkably no-one ever really got hurt, the odd bruise but no broken bones or hurt eyes.

Between the mounds was "the creek". It had no name flowing out of large pipes where Swinborne St met Eley Road. The pipes were good things to explore too and it was a challenge to see how far up them you could get before being spooked and rushing back out again. The creek wound it's way through the dirt mounds until it eventually joined Gardiners Creek at the Box Hill Golf Course. There was all sorts of rubbish dumped in it and along it's length, old cars, bits and pieces of machinery, you name it.

At one point there was a large pond which filled when the creek flow increased with heavy rain. This pond was surrounded by blackberry bushes but you could crawl through tunnels beneath them to get to the banks of the pond. That was another magical place, filled with tadpoles that I'd catch and take home to keep in a bucket. I'd often raise some until they grew legs. At one stage dad built a small pond, that couldn't hold water and had a few rocks which we tried to keep them in. They kept disappearing and I always thought they'd made their way back to the creek.

Eley Road was lined with Water Gums [Tristania Laurina] and in the spring they were populated with Emporer Gum Caterpillars and I also used to harvest them and keep them some of which spun their cocoons and emerged as Emporer Gum moths.

As I got older the vacant paddocks were filled with houses, the open drains were piped and the roads made. Even "The Creek" was piped in and the mounds of dirt flattened so that it became a "proper" park complete with kids playground. But you know what, with the disappearance of the disorder went the fun. No more yonnie fights, no more screaming through puddles on your bike, no more tadpoles or catterpillars, or trips up dark pipes. Do kids really have more fun these days. I doubt it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Three Score and Ten

What is our life expectancy? My father's father was 89 when he died. He fought in Egypt and France in World War 1 and was wounded before being repatriated to Australia. He carried sharpnel in his leg for the rest of his life. At the age of 72 in the year I was born he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had his voicebox removed and yet lived another 17 years.

So in my mind my father should have lived until he was 89. That was why his death was a shock and I think why I didn't cope too well with it at the time. The eulogy I gave at the funeral which is published below was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I got about two words in before I broke down.

For many, 76 would be seen as a good innings and given the way Dad punished his body most of his life it probably was, but I still feel cheated.

Friday, October 1, 2004

Irish blood

Was it my father's Irish blood that drove him to drink. Buggered if I know really. The one thing I can say is that it was my father's drinking that drove me not to drink. And that's not the full story either.

I grew up thinking that it was normal for a bloke to drink beer, and drink it until they were drunk, and then eventually they would fall asleep. Dad wasn't a violent drunk but there were plenty of arguments and fights caused by his habit. I remember lying awake in bed at night waiting for him to come home, wishing I could hear the car pull up the driveway and then hearing the opening of the door and the inevitable shouting match that would start.

"You're nothing but a drunken sod!!!" Mum would yell, and continue with a verbal barrage for what seemed like ages. Dad's tea would be spoiled in the oven or on a foil covered plate kept warm on top of a simmering saucepan.

So these are the images I retain from my childhood together with the times we would go out as a family and Mum would end up having to drive home because Dad was too pissed.

I remember one night where I almost belted him. I was about 16 or 17 and he took a step towards Mum with a beer bottle. If I had hit him, and I came close, I would have put him through the window. I left the house after he fell asleep and spent the next few hours just walking around the street. That was the only time that I saw any real hint of the possibility of physical violence from him, but it made me even more determined not to drink and risk the possibility of losing control.

That strict self control is something I've lived with all my life.