Elly McDonald



Eulogy for my father Pt.2 – one year on


My father died a year ago this week. He died on my parents’ bed, at his home, with his head propped against my solar plexus, supported by my crossed legs, as I stroked his arms. At the bottom of the bed our family was arrayed: my sister, my mother, my brother-in-law – my brother-in-law attendant throughout.

My father labored some hours to die, spewing black bile in repeated bouts.

“Tastes bad,” he murmured.

“Amazing how hard the body holds on to life,” my brother-in-law said, quietly.

After my father’s body gave up, I checked under his jaw for a pulse, checked my finger under his nostril for breath. I scooped the black bile out of his mouth and throat with a damp washcloth, cleaned his teeth and gums, before the palliative nurse, who we’d met just once, the previous day, arrived belatedly.

“I forgive you everything you’ve ever done wrong, for this,” my sister told me.

That’s how it was.

I wrote my father’s eulogy two days before he died.

After I delivered my eulogy at his commemorative celebration, a packed event at a local community hall, I realized I’d left out something important.

I talked about my father’s sense of humour, his way with words, his way with people. I talked in code about what an argumentative cuss he could be, a dinner table bigot. I talked about his vast curiosity. I talked about how much we loved him, and how much he loved our mother.

I left out something so obvious it blinds me: I left out my father the carer.

When my father was diagnosed with advanced, untreatable pancreatic cancer 11 weeks before his death, his immediate response was ‘So now would be a good time to buy a new car?”

He bought a new car the next day, for my mother. The car she’d been using, the one with seats that were too low, he instructed should be for my use.

When his GP responded he wished all his patients were like my dad, Dad laughed “What, dying?”

Expecting to live six weeks or less, my father spent the next weeks immersed in ensuring financial and administrative matters were in order, that the family would be cared for.

He could barely eat, just crackers, tea and packet soup. He ate a stale Cherry Ripe. Then he hunched over a garden border bed and threw up, painful retching that raised his shoulders, thin strains of pink-strewn chocolate residue. I stood close by his side with my hands soothing his back.

When he was finished, when he straightened, he whispered to me, “That’s what I did for my Mum.”

He held bowls to his mother’s lips as she threw up, dying of cancer.

My father lived twice as long as expected after diagnosis. His mother held on for four years. My father was at university in Melbourne when his mother was first diagnosed. He thrived in Melbourne. He had close friends and exciting prospects. He was doing some tutoring, some teaching at his old boarding college. He had offers of work abroad for foreign governments, offers of postgrad study.

Instead, he returned to the country town where his parents lived, where they lived somewhat unhappily together, on the border of South Australia and Victoria. His parents lived with his sister and his mother’s sister, who kept house and nursed his mother.

He helped nursed his mother and he worked in his father’s shop.

Every weekend, as soon as he knocked off work at the shop, he leapt in his 1950s jalopy and drove as fast as he could – which was fast – to Melbourne. A bit over five hours. There he went on pub-crawls with his mates and bet at the racetracks. Then Sunday night he drove the 430km back to Mount Gambier.

After his mother died, after he’d married my mother, moved to Brisbane, had two infants, my mother would complain about him staying out late after work playing cards with his mates. I don’t know how frequent this was. I do know that before I was 18 months old we’d moved to Mount Gambier, stayed at his parents’ house, then moved to Adelaide, where we lived the next 11 years. Every couple of weeks my father would drive to Mount Gambier – about 5 hours, about 430km – to spend a weekend with his father and his disabled older sister, taking care of what needed taking care of.

Which was a lot. My grandfather had glaucoma and was blind. My father’s much-older sister had crippled legs and cognitive impairment, a legacy of polio in about 1920 compounded by some illness undetermined: meningitis, encephalitis, Murray River Fever. Something fearful.

Their house was huge, built in 1910. Maintenance was massive.

When it was obvious my grandfather and my aunt could no longer manage there, obvious even to my grandfather and my aunt, my father bought them a smaller house a street away. He arranged the sale of the big house. He fought court battles when the sale fell through and he stood accused by the erstwhile buyer of misrepresentation (the buyer claimed Dad had filled the bathtub with books, so the buyer couldn’t see the poor condition of the tub).

My parents, my sister and I were now living in Melbourne. When my grandfather had cancer and was dying, my father drove up and down that highway constantly. He was due the evening my grandfather died. Freak thunderstorms lit up lurid skies. My father decided it wasn’t safe to drive, better the next day. My grandfather lay in his bed in his new home and kept asking, “When will Angus be here?”

In his last days my father confided he was certain his father’s longtime doctor had given him a morphine overdose that last night, at my grandfather’s request, the both of them expecting my father to arrive for the death.

My father felt he’d failed his dad.

After his father’s death, my father bought a small house a short walk from the home where he’d retired with my mother and moved his sister in there. He supported her living in that house until she needed round the clock care. No facility was willing to take her – “special needs” – so he donated generously till a local aged care home relented.

When she died, he cried. He released yellow balloons at her funeral. He said, “That’s over. The Great Obligation.”

My father financially supported his mother’s sister, who’d nursed his mother through her dying years and remained to keep house after my father married and moved to Brisbane. He ensured his aunt could continue to live independently, in her own flat, through to her death.

I believe he provided some financial support for others in his father’s 11 siblings’ families.

When my mother’s mother died and her father went the full King Lear, my father provided what care he could. When others in our family periodically went mad over the next decades, he supported us.

When I struggled financially, which is to say, my late 20s, early 30s, and pretty much always past age 40, my father played pater familias and ensured I was not homeless. I resented that mightily.

When I had bouts of depression after his death, when I thought life tasted sour, my sister said, “You can’t check out. Not after all the effort he put into keeping you alive.”

Fair point.

Here is the eulogy I didn’t deliver, the eulogy to my father, the carer.

Thank you for my life.

Angus with Elly

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Eulogy by my sister Cathy for our father Angus’s wake – draft

I was with Dad when the surgeon said the cancer is inoperable. Dad smiled and asked, “You don’t think it’s worth looking around for a new car then?”

The next day he went out with Mum and bought a new car for her because he wanted her to be safe when he was no longer here to protect her.

He had an amazing capacity to manage setbacks with humour and I think he learned it from when he was very young growing up in Mt Gambier during the Great Depression and World War 2. His parents Angus and Edie were born in the 1890s and already parents when World War 1 began. Dad’s sister, Ila, was one of thousands of children who caught polio around 1917 and she suffered the effects for the rest of her life. His cousin Des also grew up cared for by Dad’s family but by the time Angus was born Des was leaving home. Dad’s father owned a shop called The Spot for Menswear and it’s there that Dad began his career in retail, learning from his own father the skills he needed to be a manager and later director at Myer. I think the first photographs he took were of his house and family and the shop.

You will all recall Dad out and about with his camera. Photography was his special past-time that got him out into nature, the sunshine and the inevitable conversations with all the extraordinary people he met. Soon after he received the bad news, he decided to prepare a slide show for today. I helped with the technology and he chose the images. This proved complicated because he has 45,000 photos on his computer. Not long after we started work on the slide show his computer completely froze. I took it to Matt at Apptech who said he’d never seen that happen before but Dad’s computer was completely full. We had to delete some obsolete files. This was tricky because Dad doesn’t see any of his things as redundant.

Dad wanted the slide show to reflect his great love of Mum and family. He wanted images of all his friends: those who have already passed and those here today. We found images of him at school, including a special one of the football team showing him and Hugh Edwards who would later be brothers-in-law. There are his dear friends from uni who I’ve known and loved all my life. There are the amazing people from the community at Point Lonsdale who have shown so much love and support for the family.

Dad was so worried about Mum left alone but just seeing all the kindness that has been extended towards Elizabeth relieved him. Thank you to all of you who have dropped off food and equipment, who have chatted on the beach, phoned, and given your attention to our family in the last few months. That solidarity is much appreciated.

I sidetracked there a bit, so back to the slide show.

There are the tennis players, the Point Lonsdale Raqueteers, who awarded him legend status just in the nick of time, as seen in the photo on today’s flyer. You will see the Optimists from the Optimists’ Club, who have lunched together once a month for years, and his mates from Probus. Mum and Dad were very proud foundation members of the Combined Probus. There are old friends from interstate.

However, we didn’t fit every one Dad cares about into the slide show because I wanted images of Dad. Now, he is happy to take photos of everyone else, but there are not so many images of him. Most of the ones he chose were taken by Mum when they travelled together. One of my favourites is of Dad dressed up as Father Christmas with his sister Ila and his Auntie Maude, both of whom he looked after as they aged. It was a huge responsibility for him to drive through Melbourne on Christmas Day dressed this way because children in cars everywhere spotted him and waved. He waved back to them all.

Last year, I researched the connections between memories and photographs for an artwork project for my post-graduate studies in art at Deakin. I based my work on a photograph of the Point Lonsdale front beach by Dad. You will have seen his images of random families on the front beach that he took originally to decorate the guest rooms at the Point Lonsdale Motel, which Mum and he ran during the 1990s. Later, he couldn’t throw them away, so they hung in their house at Cheshunt Street. We discussed what his photographs actually recorded. He told me that he recalled he heard Louis Armstrong singing A Wonderful World as he pressed the shutter button. When you look at Dad’s images they all show his love for people and nature and for being alive.

Angus loved music and played it constantly. If he could hang out with Bing, Louis, Frank, Dean and Sammy he was happy. He decided to make a soundtrack for the party, to start after these speeches. He wants to dedicate all these love songs to Mum. Like Dad, I find great consolation in the stardust of a song.

He also chose the songs for this serious part of the proceedings. Amazing Grace is for Mum because Dad is grateful to her for all the grace she has shown him over the years. He wanted the Dennis Walter version but we couldn’t find the single to buy so Elly tracked down Dennis’s brother. Fred said it wasn’t available as a single but he sent Dad a homemade disk just for today. Dad chose St Louis Blues because he loved the joyous jazz funeral processions he saw in New Orleans.

He chose Jimmy Durante because there couldn’t be anyone more lovable to sing about love and Dad decided that love was the most important part of his life.

Stardust captures the bitter-sweetness he feels at leaving behind his loved ones. You might be surprised that he chose When Irish Eyes are Smiling when his ancestry is so Scottish, but Elly sent a sample of his spit to be DNA tested and it turned out he was nearly 50% Irish, down the female lines of course. This amused him no end, as his favourite son-in-law is an O’Keefe. He gave Peter his green polo shirt to wear today and chose the song, an Irish song, to celebrate the news.

Isa Lei is a Fijian farewell song. Last year, for his 85th birthday Dad took us all to Fiji. Mum and Dad took Elly and me there for our first trip overseas as teenagers. It is a special place for our family and we had the most marvellous times there. I have video of Dad’s birthday dinner aboard a sunset cruise, being serenaded by waiters. Then we all got up and danced the night away.

Looking back at my childhood, I am grateful I had loving parents but even more so that I had parents who loved each other. I remember sometimes sneaking out of bed to the top of the stairs because I could hear music playing and seeing Mum and Dad dance together alone in their own bubble of love. The last song Dad chose is Save the Last Dance for Me.

Adam Lindsey Gordon, one of Australia’s great poets, incidentally also lived in Mt Gambier. He wrote a poem that sums up how I see my Dad. It’s known as Froth and Bubble – a good name for a racehorse.

Life is mainly froth and bubble

But two things stand as stone

Kindness in another’s trouble

And courage in your own.


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Angus in his own words

angus-mcdonaldI have a strong sense of history. You see, my great-grandfather would now be 215 years old, my grandfather would be 175, and my father would be 125 and my mother 125. Even my sister would be 104. There is frightening evidence of longevity. All four of my grandparents had died long before I was born but because of this my parents told me a great deal about them and anecdotes of life in their time, including voyages by sailing ship from Great Britain, the goldrushes, Ned Kelly and the life of 12 kids on a 160 acre farm, floods, droughts, bushfires, horse-drawn vehicles and all.

I’m not lying. My great grandfather was born in Scotland in Glencoe in 1802. My grandfather was born in Adelaide in 1842. My father was born in Yando in 1890. I don’t have to invent stories, they fell in my lap. I have been privy to hand-me-down stories dating back before Ned Kelly. I’ve selected a few from the distant past and some from my own personal experiences. There’s a bit of a mixture of humour and pathos, such is life; and hopefully some insights into human nature. I’m reaching an age where recollections are almost more important than new experiences and frankly I’ve already decided that I will ignore Facebook and a good deal of the goodies of the IT revolution. In fact some of the behaviour, such as the lack of eye contact because people have their focus trained on iPads and iPhones etc, and the pathetic use of mobiles just to fill in time, makes me quite angry on occasions.

Well, times have certainly changed. I imagine the percentage of regular church-goers has dropped from 80%-plus when I was born to maybe 2% now in Australia. My dad told me that when he was a kid they were let out of Sunday School well before the adults came out of church and he and his brothers had taken all the horses out of their shafts, turned the jinkers and the buggies around and re-harnessed the horses on the other side of the fences. The kids were hoping this would see them banned from Sunday School but all it did was result in a thorough belting from their father.

Dad saw World War 1 coming and from 1911 he was in the volunteer Light Horse. He was also in the town band so he became their army bugler. He told me they had a visiting colonel from England came to inspect them, a very self-important gentleman. During a field exercise the colonel called on Dad to “Sound the assembly!”

“I don’t know it, sir,” Dad said. The colonel was unimpressed.

“If you whistle it I’ll play it,” said Dad.

“Good God!” said the colonel. “Well at least the man’s got some brains!”

My dad Angus and two of his brothers were in World War 1. As farm lads they were all excellent horsemen and deadly shots with a gun and they were in the 4th Light Horse. Uncle Les saw more of the fighting, in Lebanon, Egypt and France. He was gassed in France and although he survived, it certainly shortened his life. He died in 1952. I also knew he had been hospitalised, wounded, for five months. I had always assumed it was a bullet but when I searched his records it was a surprise to discover he had been kicked in the groin while shoe-ing a mule! It may have saved his life by keeping him out of the front line for half a year. Uncle Jack told me a story of a soldier mate of his who woke up one morning in a dead funk and sweat and told him he knew he was going to die that day. He had never been anything but brave in all kinds of situations but this day he was petrified. My uncle went to their commanding officer and explained the situation, and he said, “I’ll send you two behind the lines to get ammunition and this will take him out of harm’s way, a mile away”. Jack said they took a wagon, each riding one of the horses. At the gate Jack dismounted and presented their authority to proceed. When he returned his mate was lying on the ground with a bullet between the eyes from a sniper who had infiltrated the lines.

At the end of the War they were reallocated horses and rode as Lighthorsemen in the Victory Parade in Paris down the Champs-Elysées. In the polishing and preparation for the event one of the men discovered he had been issued a sword which was bent; although it would come out of its scabbard OK it was extremely difficult to put it back. It was too late to get a replacement but nobody liked their sergeant-major, who was an arrogant bully, so the lads all agreed they should replace the damaged sword with his – a simple swap. Imagine the scene on the big day. The sergeant-major is out on his own in full view of the crowds. The detachment is at the trot and he gives the order as they approach the saluting base: “Withdraw swords! Present swords!”, and – after they pass the President of France – “Replace swords!”

The sergeant-major rode for the rest of the journey unsuccessfully trying to get his sword back in the scabbard. After the march he singled out our boys and said “If this bloody war wasn’t over I’d have you all shot!”

Les went on to ride at the London Victory Parade and got his just deserts when his horse slipped on the wet cobblestones and they slid into the crowd outside Buckingham Palace. One selfie he’s glad he didn’t get.

Back to farming for two of them.

I had twin aunts, Fanny and Florence, who married farmers in the Yando district on the River Lodden. The eldest brother was Jim or James. He had to earn a living off a tiny farm, 200 acres. He left school at 14 and somehow got himself to Tasmania and worked in the 1890s on the newly-discovered Mount Lyall Mine near Queenstown. The work conditions were so dangerous and appalling that he joined the union. Some years later he was running the whole movement in Tasmania and in 1915 entered parliament as a Labor MP. With his lack of education it is amazing that he became Minister for Education, then Mining and then Attorney General. Dad went to his funeral in 1947. It was a State funeral and still holds the record for the number of mourners.

Dad became a retailer, which he had been in Camperdown when the War started. He worked in London Stores (in Melbourne) then Hamilton and then Mt Gambier, eventually setting up his own highly successful men’s wear business, known as The Spot for Men’s Wear. He became a town councillor for 30 years, an alderman, president of the South-East and Western Districts Football Association, The Adam Lindsay Gordon Literary Society, a Rotarian from 1928 to 1977, president of the town band, and he opened branch stores in Naracoorte and Millicent despite the headwinds of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

I was born into the depths of the Great Depression in 1931. Nobody saw me coming and pretty soon nobody will know I’ve been here. 1931 was quite a dramatic year. The New York stockmarket had already imploded and the unemployment rate was over 30%. Adolf Hitler was gearing up to seize power from a democratic government which had become feeble. Josef Stalin had harnessed the false hope of Communism and killed 10 million of his own people. Tojo had control of Japan and invaded China’s province Manchuria, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was about to launch the New Deal in America, Chiang Kai-shek ruled China but Mao Zedong was taking advantage of that Japanese invasion to carve out a power base for a successful revolution, Mussolini was planning military aggression against France and Abyssinia, and in Spain, the monarchy was removed and replaced by a republic while General Francisco Franco watched, shocked, and waited his moment.

My father saw the inevitability of World War 2, and so when I woke up on my birthday in 1938 he had given me a .22 rifle and bullets as a present: “You’d better learn to shoot, son. It could save your life.” I was 7 years old and I did kill lots of hares and rabbits and won cadet shooting competitions. Luckily I missed World War 2, Korea and Vietnam.

During World War 2 my father was appointed chairman of the government fund-raising for the War for the south-east of South Australia and chief Air Raid Warden for Mt Gambier and District. In this capacity he had a brush with American allies. The USA had taken over and expanded our airfield and had a squadron of Aerocobras stationed there along with other installations. They had compulsorily acquired five or six local garages for storage and supply depots and on one night at about midnight Dad received a call from an Air Raid Warden to say that one of these depots had a major light over the forecourt, in contravention of the blackout, and the officer in charge refused to put it out. He got out of bed very angry, probably just sufficient whiskey to prompt direct action, and he arrived outside the offending building and confronted the officer in charge. There was the light, 60 or 70 feet above the ground, and the Yank said, “We’ve come here to protect you, Aussie. If you want the light out, you put it out”.

“Right!” said Angus. “Can I have that sentry’s rifle?”

“Sure, Aussie, sure.”

Dad cocked the rifle and took aim and blew the globe to smithereens.

The Yank looked on and said, “You know, Aussie, I think we are going to win this war between us.”

I turned 12 in 1943 and I distinctly remember the day I became convinced we would win World War 2. The news in that year was bleak. Hitler was at the gates of Moscow, Rommel’s panzas had reached El Alamein and Tobruk was under siege. In the Pacific, the Japanese were everywhere. But on that day a flight of 20 or so Aerocobras came to my home town. They hedge-hopped at phenomenal speed over the paddocks, even up and down our main street, less than 20 feet above the ground. And then they would hit the thrusters and let out an ear-piercing whine and hurtle vertically up into the clouds. We had become accustomed to Avro Anson trainers flying at 110 mph and these dare-devils thundered across our skies at 400 mph and, like the Yank from the story of the shot lamp, I said to Dad, “We’re going to win this war!”

The great turning point came in that year with the Battle of the Coral Sea, on Australia’s doorstep; the break-out from El Alamein across the North African desert; the Russian victory at the gates of Moscow, St Petersburg and Stalingrad; and the beginning of the thousand bomber raids over Germany. I recall a cartoon in The Argus: “At the going down of the son (S.O.N.) and in the mourning (M.O.U.R.N.I.N.G.) we will remember THEM – Hitler-Germany Mussolini-Italy Tojo-Japan THE AXIS!”

I had some really great bosses during my working life but I think the best was Basil Glowrey, who was managing director of Myer in South Australia when I was there. He joined Myer after the War but only after he recovered from being a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese. He came back from Burma weighing 5 stone but when I knew him he was again a robust 14 stone. Glowrey was shot down over Sumatra. He was patrolling solo in a Wirraway and got sighted by three Zeros – not a fair fight. They took him to Changi in Singapore and like many others he was transferred to the Burma Railway. He was in the same camp as Weary Dunlop and witnessed some appalling scenes. If you haven’t seen Bridge Over The River Kwai you really should.

One of our Myer directors, Geoff Errington, was another ex-serviceman. He had been a bomber pilot in New Guinea and told me when they were stationed in Milne Bay a crew with a fully-loaded bomb-load took off on a mission from the short air-strip beside the heavily forested hills. It failed to climb fast enough and blew apart when it hit the hillside. The crew were all their close mates and they went up and surveyed the scene. No one was alive and there was a flying boot with a severed foot in it and helmets and jackets mixed with human flesh. Supplies were so short they salvaged everything they could and reused them when required. This became a practice and reusing dead men’s gear out of their lockers was usual.

Geoff told me he and some of these pilots from New Guinea came back to Australia and were stationed at Laverton and Point Cook as instructors. One day they were sitting in the bar and a trainer aircraft took off. It stalled and crashed back to earth and burst into flames. Geoff raced to the phone and contacted the control tower. “Who was the pilot and who was the instructor?” he asked.

It was one of his best mates. The boys in the bar followed tradition and went to his locker and each took a piece of clothing or boots and retired to the bar to have a farewell drink to their mate. Suddenly the door burst open and this guy waved his hands and shouted, “Put it all back! Put it all back!”

Their mate had been thrown clear and he knew exactly what they were doing, saying goodbye to him.

“Not yet,” he said.

He had resilience, like the old Jewish lady crossing the road. An aggressive motorist flashed by and knocked her flying. As she began to get up he stopped and leaned out the window and shouted, “Watch out!”

She shouted back, “Whatsa matter? You coming back??”

Friday 14th August we celebrated the end of WW2 Victory in the Pacific. It’s worth thinking about what life would be like today had we lost!

When my family – my wife Elizabeth and our daughters – lived in Adelaide we were adopted by the American ex-pat community, most of whom were engaged in oil search Delphin Santos as they found and developed the SA Moonie oil field. They were extremely active in the Australian-American Association and Liz and I were each year guests on that table, a huge square in the middle of the ballroom. We were the only Australians with several dozen Americans, mostly engineers and their wives. One year I was seated next to a guy from Oklahoma named Tom Manuel. His company actually sold the drilling equipment to Delhi and he was the US consul for South Australia. Tom was a man of few words and although I knew him quite well we really didn’t converse very much at the table. All of a sudden at midnight the double doors were thrown open and an American brass band from the visiting aircraft carrier came striding in playing Colonel Boogie and other Yankee tunes and precision marching up and down the aisles between the tables. It was really very exciting but Tom turned to me and said, “Don’t these Yanks give you the shits!”

Back in 1967 the term ‘marketing’ came into widespread use and I was lecturing at the South Australian Institute of Technology and flew to Sydney to the first conference of the Institute of Marketing. The key speaker was Professor Britt from California. Part of his lecture was to define ‘marketing’. In doing so he told us this:

“I was flying out to Australia to address this conference and our flight followed the Tropic of Cancer across the Pacific to Japan and then on to Singapore and Sydney. The crossing of the Pacific became very hairy when we hit a typhoon. Before that however I was chatting with my neighbour in the next seat who was a bishop, he told me, and who was wearing his bishop’s vest and clerical collar. He enquired what I did and I explained I was a professor of marketing. He pressed to find out what this was all about, and so I explained there are those such as salesmen and sales managers whose job it is to sell but marketing embraced much more, such as advertising and broader policy issues including product innovation, and then on top of that there was in the company hierarchy the term ‘management’ – people who oversaw the whole structure and process of general management.

“About this time we hit turbulence and the plane began to thump and bump and shake unbelievably. Passengers started screaming and crying and several were injured. A young lady broke free from her seat-belt and raced up the aisle. She spotted my companion the bishop and grabbed onto him and pleaded ‘Father Father save us!’

“He turned to her and said, ‘I’m sorry, my dear. I’m not in Management. I’m only in Marketing.’”

Here’s another aeroplane story.

At an exciting time in the history of Myer I was appointed team leader of a selected group of eight directors and senior representatives tasked with reorganising the company nationally. This did not include Target but it embraced McWhirters in Queensland, Western Stores and later Grace Brothers in NSW, Myer Melbourne and Southern Stores in Victoria, Myer South Australia, and Bairds and Boans in Western Australia. At that time I seemed to be on an aircraft five days a week and wouldn’t you know the economy had a nasty downturn and all directors and others used to First Class travel were sent a Board instruction not to travel First Class to help the company economise. Which we all did. Several weeks later I ran into our chairman Ken Myer in the departure lounge bound for Perth. When the seatbelt signs came off a hostess came to me and said, “Mr Myer is sitting five rows back and would like you to join him”.

I walked up the aisle and found Ken sitting by the window with a spare seat beside him.

“Gee,” I said. “You were lucky to get an empty seat on such a full flight!”

“Oh,” Ken said. “As chairman of the Board I carefully oversaw the wording of that edict about travelling economy class. You will notice it does not prescribe how many seats you can have. I always buy two.“

“I’ve got long legs,” he said.

I’ve always been keen on tennis but no champion. In 1958 I married Liz and moved to Melbourne from my dad’s retail business to become personal assistant to John Young, one of the pioneer Australian management consultants.   Must have boasted to him of my tennis powess when I found he was president of Kooyong Tennis Club and Lawn Tennis Australia Victoria hosting Davis Cups. He asked if Liz and I would come down to his Portsea house for a barbecue and tennis day and of course we accepted. On arrival he said there were four couples and suggested the men play a set before lunch, now!

The others were twice my age but I quickly found they were no pushovers. John Young was partnering me and I said, “I’m getting sick of this old guy down there on the backhand court, keeps returning my serve with ease and he’s giving me the shits!”

“Okay,” John said. “I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce you. That’s Harry Hopman!”

In Adelaide our neighbour was a close friend of Lew Hoad and he came over and stayed with them and I saw a lot of him. By then he was almost out of top tennis and was coaching in Spain. One day he showed me his problem from thumping his foot down as he served – his right foot and ankle was cold and solid like pottery. He had to have shoes made to fit and yet that week he played exhibition tennis with Rosewall, Sedgeman and John Newcombe.

Incidentally John Bromwich retired down here where we live in Victoria and used to play a little with his wife Zelda and two beautiful blond daughters. John had severe arthritis and could scarcely move about the court and died many years ago.

Later I had a chance meeting on a plane with Peter McNamara, who with Paul McNamee won the Australian Open men’s doubles and two Wimbledon men’s doubles. His knee was cactus and he had the management of the Pro Shop and brand new stadium in East Melbourne. He was trying to stir up interest in business for the courts and I formed a group to play there each week because Peter offered to play with us. We did this weekly for about five years and sometimes Paul McNamee showed up too. One day Peter was partnering me and said I would do a lot better if I watched the ball. I told him I was helping to partner him but I was too old to be coached!

On another day I asked him if he preferred me or McNamee as a partner. He said, “Well, McNamee is boring, because he’s so predictable. You? You’re not!”

He told us that when he and Paul McNamee won their first Wimbledon doubles at a very young age, they were totally nervous the night before the final and decided to go to the club house, have a lemonade and sneak to bed. When they came into the bar there was their idol Lew Hoad propped up on a stool. McNamee pulled his shirt and said “Don’t go near him, people will think we’re trying to get some tips”. But Hoad had seen them and beckoned them over to him. Sheepishly, they approached and Paul couldn’t help himself. He blurted out, “Lew, what are we going to do?”

Lew looked at them both and said “It’s all in your serve”.

“What do you mean?” Peter asked.

“Just throw it up and hit it like shit,”

And that’s just what they did.

Champions don’t need coaches.


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Elly’s planned eulogy for her father’s wake – Sunday 5th March


Dad and I were sitting out on the porch one day when I noticed something unusual about the tree branch hanging over our back fence.

“That tree has a NUT in it,” I said.

Quick as a flash Angus responded, “Must be one of our friends dropping over for a visit!”

Thank you for visiting. Thank you for being our friends. And thank you for being here today.

Dad was very quick witted.

After he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a visiting friend made a somewhat socially awkward remark about playing a harp outside the Pearly Gates.

“What will YOU be playing in heaven, Dad?” I asked.

“Tennis,” he replied, with a Cheshire Cat grin.

I am so lucky to be the daughter of Donald Angus McDonald. I have valued his wit, his warmth, his intelligence, his fierce opinions, his protectiveness. I have valued his endless curiosity about life, other people, current events, fingerprint technology.

I’m not joking there.

In the last week of his life Dad and I spent a precious hour or two finding out everything we could about fingerprint technology: its uses, its failings, its future.

A day or so later I said to him, “I feel a little guilty that I used time we could have spent talking about the things that have mattered most to you in your life talking instead about fingerprints. But then I read an article which discussed gossip and trivial conversation from an anthropological perspective, in terms of social bonding, as a process of affirming relationship, like monkeys grooming each other, picking nits out of each others’ hair. It doesn’t really matter WHAT we’re talking about. It’s the act of conversing that matters.”

He smiled a Sphinx smile, which I hope means he agreed.

There’s no question Angus loved conversing, and loved his friends, his visitors, loved social bonding – and, truth to tell, loved a verbal tussle.

We had nitpick conversations about etymology. Most recently, the origins of the surname Bassingthwaite. We don’t know anyone with the surname Bassingthwaite, but we thought it worth exploring, for the sake of exploring.

Which brings me to travel. Angus didn’t travel overseas until after he’d reached 40, but he made up for lost time. His interest in other people extended to an interest in other cultures.

Dad was a child in World War 2. All his life, World War 2 was a reference point, the most charged period within his memory and study. When Angus, Liz and I drove the Nullarbor together in 1985 we drove past a bicycle, alone on the highway, with panniers and a rider in a French Foreign Legion cap, and with a Japanese flag flying optimistically from the back wheel rack.

Dad overtook, carefully, then said, “He is taking a big risk flying the Japanese flag out here. There are still motorists who might take that as a provocation.”

And yet, when Angus visited Japan he fell in love. I think he made five visits to Japan within about 10 years, and there’s no questioning his very real admiration and respect for Japanese people and culture. He was capable of embracing new information and adopting new attitudes.

Speaking of love: my father loved my mother. When he was ill, he was clear she was his first priority. In the last day, when he was dying, it was her name, Elizabeth, he said repeatedly, even after very few words were coherent. Other words that were clear were “Cathy”, “Peter”, “Pelly”, “Family”, and “Love”.

Dad loved us, and we loved him.

After all the words are said, all the words explored, those are the words that count.

Daddy, I love you.

I’ll leave it at that.


Diary of my Dad’s dying

When my father was dying, across the Australian summer 2016/17, I wrote frequently on Facebook about what was happening.

I am very aware that there are people who consider it completely inappropriate, abhorrent, to post on Facebook about intimate family matters. There are people who find it distasteful to post about deaths.

I am, obviously, not one of those people. I use Facebook to post to my friends about my daily life. My daily life across those months centred on death – my father’s.

One of my friends, John Power, who has himself since died, asked if I was collating my Facebook posts as a diary. He said there was a book in it.

I have no urge to write that book, but there will come a day when I delete my Facebook account, and unless I collate those posts elsewhere, the record of those months will be lost to me.

This is not a blog post intended for a broad audience. This is me ensuring that what I wrote and the images I selected during these crucial 11 weeks in my life, the 11 weeks of my father’s dying, are retained.

A NOTE ON FORM: Perversely, I have set this in reverse chronological order. Like Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal – in my beginning is my end.

3 September 2017:

“I have two favourite children. Guess what? You are one of them. I have adored you both always! Angus”

Love you this Father’s Day and always 💌


29 May 2017:

Funnily enough, reading this article at the reference to Lear I immediately thought not of Shakespeare’s king but of Edward Lear.

Dad and I sat together every day, and he, too, quoted Lear:

“We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness.
So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too—
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out—
And take upon ’s the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies.”

My father had 11 weeks’ notice of his death and, although he was not religious, his and our preparations were very much as Phillipe Aries describes, minus the overtly religious elements.

We certainly would not have preferred a quick, sudden death, or a medicalised death ending in hospital.

Sorry not sorry to anyone bothered by me harping on about my father’s death.

15 May 2017:

Angus’s “proper” plaque is in situ. Cathy has planted pigface.

Visiting with offerings of Rocky Road. Now I’ll have to eat it on his behalf, here in the autumn sunshine with a cold sea breeze.


12 May 2017:

Digital art by Cathy McDonald – ‘Sisters’ series






9 May 2017:

To Melbourne to see the family financial adviser about my legacy from Dad. Feeling entirely awful and exhausted beyond belief. My psychologist suggests the exhaustion might be grief.

I’ve been reading H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald’s remarkable memoir of grief (and birds, and history, nature, poetry, photography), but my ability to concentrate is not great. The upside of today is that as of this week, my usual restricted cashflow is unchanged but my broader financial setup is suddenly quite grown-up. Possibly for the first time ever. Strange.

24 April 2017:

The NBN installers are due any minute. I have a flu-like cold and Liz, Cathy and I have a lawyer’s appointment this arvo about probate.

More nightmares: a final year English exam, to be done in our own individual apartments in a kind of grand hotel, except I’ve just moved my belongings into mine and it’s piled high with stacks of books and a dog knocks the pile where I put the exam paper and I can’t find the exam paper again and I can’t find an invigilator and I only wrote one sentence and I don’t know how long I’ve got and it’s so unfair because I know the texts backwards and the questions are a doddle, if only I knew what they were, in the absence of the paper, the paper that is lost…


18 April 2017:

Note from my reclusive octagenarian retired GP neighbour discovered today scrunched up and wet in my letterbox (the note, not the neighbour).

Despite 1/3/17 date, I could swear it hasn’t been there previously.

People are strange. Sometimes wonderfully 💝

John's letter

… strong possibility: he put the letter in Unit 1’s mailbox, and no one clears that mailbox because Unit 1 is a holiday rental, but it’s been cleared now because a buyer’s contract has just gone through.

16 April 2017:

Liz has Angus’s wearable clothes prepared for the Op Shop and has offered me my pick.

Not the best night to do this. Tired and sad.

She’s worrying a nuclear bomb will drop on Hong Kong while we’re there 😯

Angus clothes

I formally ended my friendship with my first ever ‘best friend’ after Dad’s death. She was the first person I contacted with the news of his diagnosis. She responded with a breezy text about everyone having to go at some time and said she’d find a time in her busy schedule to be in contact later. 20 weeks later she texted me happy birthday greetings (my birthday is the same week as hers). I told her in the meantime Angus had died at home in my arms, was dead, buried, there’d been a commemoration, and I was so disappointed I hadn’t heard from her. Nothing since.

I remember sitting in the Bayswater Brasserie in Kings Cross carefully composing a letter to her father when *he* was dying 30 years of so ago.

the day after Dad’s death I Unfriended a longtime FB friend in the U.S. who I’ve never met but who I like(d) very much. She has difficult life circumstances and mental illness and quite frequently posts suicidal thoughts or about hospitalizations. I always sent prompt responses I hoped were supportive and appropriate. My bro-in-law the shrink abd my sister would point out how aggressive it is to post suicide threats and attempts on FB, and how distressing for readers with issues of their own, and had been advising me to Unfriend her for some time.

That day she posted that she had razor at her throat. I didn’t see her post till hours later and I was blunt: Don’t kill yourself. Today I watched my father die in my arms spewing black blood. Life is precious.

She wrote a long response about how some day, some time, the inevitable ultimate ending to her story MUST be that she kills herself. No reference at all to my father’s death.

I told her I wished her well but I cannot remain her friend.

Very, very grumpy today. Watching Cats v Hawks (Cats bloody better win) and just adapted a line from The Rocky Horror Show, “There’s a spar-ar-ar-ar-ark [sic] BURNING IN THE FIRE PLACE” … remember breaking into that over dinner with parents one time and them both staring, and Dad saying, “Whatever THAT was, DON’T EVER DO IT AGAIN”.. 😻

14 April 2017:

After an uncharacteristically work-filled week it’s hard to get up, get dressed, and get to Geelong for church.

But after attending last night’s Tenebrae (Maundy Thursday) service – after a late shift – I’m reminded of the Christian significance of Easter by the words of minister Peter Gador-Whyte: “He shares our frailties to restore our dignity”.

Seems I’ve lived this recently.


How empowering is it for me to put myself in the place of Michelangelo’s Mary 💛 (That’s not a question)

… going to church dressed as an Italian widow. Some of us are incorrigible. (An Italian widow in sheer see-through fabric; limited black options in my wardrobe 😎)

8 April 2017:

Happy birthdayI am 56 today and last night my sister gave me a birthday card from my Dad.

It reads: “I have two favourite children Guess what? You are one of them I have adored you both always! Angus”

Cathy bought multiple cards when Dad got sick and asked him to write birthday and Christmas greetings into the future in them. He never got round to it. So she trimmed a note he’d written on scrap paper and stuck it inside a birthday card for me.

When it’s her birthday, I’ll transpose the love note to a card for her 👭

Favourite children

25 March 2017:

I dreamt my Dad wasn’t dead.

Instead he was entangled in the doona on my parents’ king-size bed, not well, but bright-eyed and smiling.

“Hello,” I said. “I thought you were gone.”

Angus interim plaque

19 March 2017:

Sisters 👭


16 March 2017:

All is well. In fact all is good 🌞

Enjoying cappuccino catch-ups with friends who live locally. Back at work at the Gallery. Gardening. Swimming 🐋

Thank you for all the well-wishes (and the fishes)

Go to the beach

6 March 2017:

Yesterday’s celebration of Angus was everything we could have hoped.

I cannot express how grateful I am to my FB (and real life) friends who were able to be there: in no particular order: Penny, Jen, Lou, Heather, Ian W, Ian R, Adrienne, Gail and Sonia, Vikki and others who are not on FB but who I love very much and whose presence is appreciated. I hope I haven’t dropped out anyone’s name. Please forgive me if I have.

I also very, very much appreciate all the care and patience other FB friends have shown me over this past 3 months since Dad’s diagnosis. I won’t name you. You know who you are. I am very thankful and I will not forget.

Much love to you

Angus portrait

We’re embarrassed that some people who planned to be there stuck with the initial tbc date 12 March and didn’t see the subsequent notices advising 3rd March. There were 150+ guests, maybe 200, with standing room only, and it really wasn’t possible to update individuals ahead of time, but sad some people – like Dad’s favourite of Cathy’s exes – missed out 😯

3 March 2017:











3 March 2017:

Singing this on the way to the crematorium.

Previous song was Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold singing I Remember It Well (from Gigi), which made us cry

3 March 2017:

Liz has tidied Angus’s closet. It never, for one moment, looked REMOTELY like this in his lifetime 😂

Angus's closet

2 March 2017:


2 March 2017:

Flowers and card from my workplace

Hand delivered by my wonderful colleague, Lydia Cover, who had me sing the Aaronic Blessing for her 💗

Flowers from my workplace

1 March 2017:


1 March 2017:

Notices from the Geelong Advertiser and flowers from our family dentist 🌞






Flowers from Dentalspa

… and also in The Age






1 March 2017:

The alternative history – a tribute

28 February 2017:

The format for the wake on Sunday has Peter as MC, short eulogies from me, Cathy, then Liz, lots of food and drink and conversation, and all Dad’s favourite music, with slideshow visuals of family.

This is a draft. It’s short. I’ve told Cathy she can do the timeline history of etc.

Anyone and everyone is very welcome – details published with Angus’s death notice in The Age and the Geelong Advertiser tomorrow (Wednesday)

27 February 2017:

Seems the wake is now confirmed as THIS Sunday, 5 March – 2pm at Point Lonsdale Bowls Club. All welcome.

I need to get that eulogy written, fast.

The private funeral is 11am this Friday.


There won’t be any religious element – just Peter as MC, short eulogies from me, Cathy and Liz, the music he most loved, eating, drinking and socializing.

26 February 2017:

Donald Angus McDonald
d.26/2/2017 at 1pm

at home with his head on my lap and his family around him.

… I think Cathy and I were feeling pretty good relatively speaking except since Dad’s death mum has been difficult and Cathy lost it with her and Hugh has been harassing us with multiple phone calls about his planned visit and taking us to task for how we announced the death (an email I wrote sent in Liz’s name) and our arrangements for the funeral and the wake and even accusing us of misinforming people of the date and time Dad died. Pretty sure it was 1pm Sunday; I was 100% present. I was holding him, I took his pulse, checked his breath, cleaned his body. Hugh thinks it was 3pm Saturday and somehow thinks his opinion matters.

I was so angry by Hugh and his partner’s 6th phone call within 24 hours I had to remove myself.

I’m trying to not let it affect me. But he’s coming for a week and now that Dad’s gone there’s no reason for him to stay at Cathy and Peter’s rather than in Lonnie and removal will be hard. The saving grace is with the wake now so soon NEITHER he nor Athena will be there. (I presume)

24 February 2017:

We watched cricket together. Lots of sleeping.

Angus plays cricket

24 February 2017:

Daddy’s girl

Still waiting for paramedic vehicle to bring him home

Update: he’s staying in hospital on a morphine pump, might come home on pump in the middle of the night, might not

Angus w Elly 3






Liz w Elly

24 February 2017:

Angus and Liz young

24 February 2017:

Cathy, Peter and I have spent the afternoon in St John of God emergency dept but in keeping eith Advanced Care plan Angus is now being sent home dosed heavily with morphine.

I went ahead to locate after hours Palliative Care contacts but CANNOT FIND the palliative care info folder or A.H. tel’s

Will be off FB for a bit now xxx

Palliative care manual

… the home visit nurse on Friday took it with her. It’s back now

24 February 2017:

It’s agreed: I will sing the Aaronic Blessing to my father’s coffin before it exits.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
And be gracious unto you.

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
And give you peace.

It’s only 19C and overcast, but it’s low tide (I wrote ‘tired’) and Dad has been dry retching sputum and blood and shaking violently, so I am heading to the sea for a swim 🏊

Photo taken by Angus on Wednesday when he and Cathy drove down the Surf Coast.

Angus's last photos


24 February 2017:

Family getting-to-know you meeting 11.15am today with my friend Michael Nolan, in his capacity as celebrant for Angus’s funeral.

Dad has micro-managed the wake. Properly speaking Mum gets the deciding say on things to do with the private family part, at the funeral. Dad got a little over-anxious a few days back and started dictating the details but I think, based on how well we’ve been doing, we’ll have consensus xxx

… he was really, really sick this morning. Too sick to participate. Community nurse arrived about an hour ago.

1 February 2017:

Liz’s friend Bev got knocked down by a kelpie on the beach and will need 6 months rehab to repair torn ligaments. She won’t be back at the beach.

Some of Liz’s beach friends whose dogs have recently died have decided they’re too old to walk dogs and are not getting replacements. Liz is very sad that her supportive beach network is evaporating, just as she most needs it.


21 February 2017:

Elly’s nightmares:

Heather you and I were to appear on TV and I didn’t have a thing to wear. Here’s how we decided to style me:

Pale primrose granny-pants, worn as hot pants
Sunshine yellow singlet, worn without bra
Mauve Isadora Duncan scarf
Dark red chunky plastic Pop Art ring

Minutes before we were due in the studio I was worried strong camera lighting might be unkind OMG 😨😨😨😨😨

Elly's nightmare

19 February 2017:

From Liz’s hidden photo albums – Angus 1972, and the first photo I ever took, Angus 1972 or 1973 building the retaining wall in our Adelaide back garden.






Those pants are towelling.

19 February 2017:

I’m due to meet up with an old friend from teacher training on the beach in 55 minutes but I cannot quite get vertical. (Nightmares again.)

I haven’t seen her since ’04 but saw her name as purchaser on the paperwork for the sale of my car.

Then family lunch.

I drank coffee

Parents’ house deluged with phone calls yesterday from WA family – from Perth, from Paris, from Texas. Hugh isn’t seriously sick. Low numbers on prostate count and no spread.

16 February 2017:

Birds sing

16 February 2017:

Clan McDonald sign up for their final resting places (Indigenous: weerona – the name of my great-grandfather McDonald’s property near Campbelltown).

Angus and Liz are the big upright rock (centre); Cathy and Peter are to the left; and I am the small irregular awkward stand-alone (right). I expect future vandals to pick me up and fling me. Plaques to come.

Moonah Walk

It’s beautiful. We’re thrilled. There’s a beautiful sandstone bench where a person can sit and reflect by our stones 💚

Moonah Walk, Point Lonsdale cemetery

Moonah Walk viewing

15 February 2017:

It’s official: my family ARE THE BEST 💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖

We have agreed on everything for Dad’s cremation, and the wake, and have got through all that other Very Tricky Stuff.

It’s ok to congratulate us now 💐💐💐💐💐💐💐💐💐💐

The reason life works

14 February 2017:


13 February 2017:

It’s been a very intense and painful few days with family issues as Angus gets more ill. On Friday Angus and Liz visited Kings Funerals to discuss the funeral pyre and came away with a long list of questions such as: What will Angus wear? Do we want to view him? Who will wheel the coffin? Et al

We’ll have a family get-together this week to sort through all this.

We’re a long way from being on safe ground.

Dad has decided to include a couple of religious elements after all, one of which might be Psalm 23 and another might be my friend Michael Nolan, a former Catholic priest who once explained to me the role of a parish priest is similar to being the donkey in a paddock with horses: there to help calm the skittish ones.

Very very hard to stay ok but fortunately have a few horse whisperers to hand.

We’re racing ahead on suggestions for What Will Angus Wear? Rather than playing a harp in Heaven he says he wants to play tennis, so I suggested tennis gear. Angus rather fancies being buried in full Essendon Bombers supporters gear: then we could say the Essendon Saga killed him. It would have the dual benefit of disposing of the Essendon scarf I knitted him with decency.


12 February 2017:

[During family turmoil I won’t record here]

Laughing while watching Mulan:

Mushu: “Hey, c’mon, you did it to save your father! Who knew you’d end up shaming him and disgracing your ancestors and losing all your friends…”

You did it to save your father

5 Februay 2017:

Cathy did an icon-making workshop this weekend and made this icon of St Mary (me) and St Elizabeth (Cathy) hugging each other.

She wanted to make St Elizabeth’s robe blue but the specialist told her Greek Orthodox symbology requires that it be green.

We look very worried.

Sisters icon by Cathy McDonald

The other images are from the Nag Hammadi Library and a copy (the darker one) in St Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, Roanoke, Virginia.






1 February 2017:

Things turned pear-shaped shortly after this pic. Very bad day. Angus off to GP.

Angus with Bella

Feels like a turning point. We’re poised for the down slide. Dad has apologized in advance to me and Cathy for when he’s angry or short-tempered over coming weeks.

We had a Monty Python moment where Cathy was trying to talk up how well he is and Dad and I were having Absurdist paroxysms lol

He was [calm and at peace in this photo]. He’s calm most of the time anyway, doesn’t have the energy to get agitated. As opposed to Liz, who was a nightmare yesterday. I had an awful day and an awful night and now I’m lolling in bed just dreading a future with my mother. Luckily Adrienne expects me paddle boarding with her at Barwon Heads at 9am so I have a distraction.

31 January 2017:

Since I keep having these horrible nightmares, I’m pondering what I can do with them creatively.

Take last night: my dream about Sarah. Sarah is a little person, a dwarf. But she has some kind of cultic significance that’s causing her to be hunted down to enrol her against her will in an ominous ritual. Sarah is trapped in a large house that’s designed to maximize surveillance, with mirrors, peepholes, angled corridors all set up to ensure she never escapes visual monitoring.

Someone remarked, “Imagine what it means to someone who’s been stalked all her life to be in this environment”. It was a voice in my ear, from outside the dream, and I thought, how TRUE!

Dad is envious of my nightmares because he never dreams. We discuss guided dreaming; I don’t think that’s the correct term but it *has* a term and it means developing the ability to direct the narrative within our dreams.



31 January 2017:



Dad and I were chuckling over this when suddenly when suddenly he became Saccorhytus and threw up very loudly for what seemed an eternity, whole body shaking. Mum is upset it was so loud the neighbours must have heard. Very distressing for everyone 😦

28 January 2017:

if you're lucky enough to get old

26 January 2017:

My sister left this card for me. She knows I’m seeing bands tomorrow – Jo Jo Zep and Sports at Melbourne Zoo – and staying over in Melbourne in hopes of doing it again on Saturday, Peter Garrett and Kev Carmody. Finances permitting.

Also tonight I’ll be on Dad’s arm as his date at his tennis group’s Australia Day barbecue 🎾

You know you're getting old

Angus waves the flag

Angus waves the flag

26 January 2017:

Reports of Angus’s weight loss are greatly exaggerated. He’s not 48kg, he’s a much more robust 63kg. Seems he leaned against the bathroom sink bench while weighing himself 😂

I did think a 27kg loss in 8 weeks was improbable, and he looks more solid than I did when I was an anorexic 47kg lol

25 January 2017:

Centrelink has lost my application for Carers Payment, mailed to them 18 Dec. So far I’ve been on hold with them for 40+ minutes and counting.

I am doing gentle yoga asana, all the seated poses and prone poses I can think of, moving into standing now. Had another ocean swim this morning and did aquaerobics too (auto spell suggests aquaerotica, which I might try another time) 💚

Boromir on Centrelink

26 January 2017:

Water dragon

23 January 2017:

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, People’s Choice Winner 2017

Mario Cea, The Blue Trail

Mario Cea, The Blue Trail 2017

Rainbow Wings, by Victor Tyakht

Victor Tyakht, Rainbow Wings 2017

21 January 2017:

Nightmare in which I performed a Wednesday Addams version of this accompanied by werewolves howling.

Marginally less scary than previous night, when radioactive tentacled indigo creatures from outer space caused people to fling themselves from top floor windows of a haunted house, in vain; and it was revealed my mother had had an affair with Vince Lovegrove.

I do not think this happened 😉 Dad’s facial expression response to my nightmare was priceless.

I think that came out of a conversation Dad and Mum and I had a few days back discussing the insurance liability implications of Grant Page dunking women from the foxline into Gill and Ron’s pool New Year’s Day 1970, 71. Reckon Liz found being dunked by Grant a bit of a turn-on 😂

20 January 2017:

Driving Dad to imaging appointment. He is a passenger seat driver.

We have marvelled at the discovery “40 zone” rhymes with “cortisone”.

We have agreed there should be a TV series called Braking Hard.

Dad has begun a verse that includes the lines ‘My underwear hurts me / course it does’ – corset does, geddit 😉 – which may go on to include the references to cortisone and school hours traffic limits.

He’s bright as a button, lots of entertaining conversation 💘






The GP just phoned to say x-ray shows no bowel obstruction, nothing bad. He said he knows the deal was he was only going to phone if it was BAD news but he didn’t want to leave us dangling. Dad so moved by that he cried.

We have agreed he will not only leave me a birthday card for my 56th birthday (he’ll be gone before April) but will write me a time-capsule birthday card to be opened on my 86th birthday. Currently he’s considering “You expected something profound? April fool”. I think he can do better.

… last night we (parents + me) were reviewing a butcher sheet filled with my writing c.1990 with headings “Angus – I like” and “I *don’t* like”. He got all happy at the “I like” list then sad at the “I *don’t* like”. I thought the lists were mine (they were all things I *would* write), but Liz and Angus believe they were lists where I acted as scribe on Liz’s behalf, mediating to save their marriage after he’d disgraced himself. Somewhere there was once a corresponding list about Liz, by Angus.

Then at bed time Mum left a card on his pillow with “Je t’aime” printed on the front and her message inside “Sleep well / Love you”. Dad and I joked today she couldn’t quite bring herself to say “*I* love you”, in English 😈

18 January 2017:

Dad and I tried to play #top10booksthatshapedmeasateen but he insists no books have influenced him, except economic theorists and the Scottish Enlightenment.

We tried #top10filmsthatshapedmeasateen but again, Angus says the only film that’s shaped him is On The Waterfront, which he saw aged 20 or 21.

I could immediately come up with one Ridley Scott (The Duellists, seen on my 17th birthday) and no less than 3 Scorseses seen as a teen (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz), but despite a youth misspent at the Valhalla Richmond I couldn’t think of others that I could say “shaped” me in teen years.

A little indie film from Canada I reviewed for The Nation Review in 1978, called Outrageous?

Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets

Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets

17 January 2017:

Shout out to all the plants

16 January 2017:

Angus with Bella and Liz

Angus with Bella and Liz 1

One might wonder, why is Elizabeth holding a breakfast tray in front of her face. Answer: she is using it to prop up her newspaper cryptic crossword 🙂






16 January 2017:

Angus has dropped from 75kg to 48kg. We’re feeding him carrot cake 💜

He has zero desire for food but more particularly, he can’t tolerate many foods, or much food. He either throws it up or has horrible digestive issues. He says he has a visceral instinct for what he can’t eat.


“Bleeding that takes place in the esophagus, stomach, or the first part of the small intestine most often causes the stool to appear black or tarry. Your doctor may use the term “melena.”

Bleeding in the upper part of the GI tract will most often cause black stools due to:

Abnormal blood vessels

A tear in the esophagus from violent vomiting (Mallory-Weiss tear)

Bleeding ulcer in the stomach

When blood supply is cut off to part of the intestines

Inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis)

Trauma or foreign body

Widened, overgrown veins (called varices) in the esophagus and stomach.”

Pretty sure I saw a small segment of blood vessel in his black stools yesterday 😦

Angus with Liz watercolour of motel

15 January 2017:

I so much enjoyed being at church this morning that I’m thinking it might be good to schedule regular weekly activities away from family and Point Lonsdale as part of my self-care program.

My initial doodles play with me having maybe a Geelong day every Friday, so I can sing with Wesley Singers Thursday evenings then stay over at Cathy’s ahead of singing with the Acabellas Friday mornings. That would mean lunch and early afternoons Fridays would be available for catch-ups with Geelong friends, if anyone feels inclined.

I might also designate Wednesday as a weekly Melbourne day, partly so I can catch films at the Nova I’d ordinarily miss out on and also art exhibitions. It would mean, too, I could do catch-ups with Melbourne-based friends on Wednesdays, it that suits. If I stay over at Cathy’s the previous night I could do a Yoga Dojo class Tuesday evenings. Alternatively, Tuesday could be the regular Melbourne day (Wednesday works better for cash flow).

In Point Lonsdale, Maureen Crawford has invited me to ocean swim with the Mermaids whatever mornings I can make it to the Springs for 7.30am. [Ian] we might be due a light lunch or coffee or a walk, too? Will message you xxx

Mostly we don't remember

Guys, I exhausted myself making plans. Will do what I can when I can [angel with wilting wings emoticon]

14 January 2017:

From the poem “Survey” by Elizabeth Willis

Survey by Elizabeth Willis

13 January 2017:

Point Lonsdale Racqueteers tennis group formally farewell Angus – Beach House, Barwon Heads.






Liz and Angus (lanyard reads ABSOLUTE LEGEND)

Liz and Angus

It was a lovely occasion 💗 Liz had an afterglow through till bedtime, which is wonderful.

Happy Liz

Glad people are actively supporting Liz now rather than waiting.

Mum was on a high all day. Dad had to stay in bed all [next] day but it was worth it 💕






The photo Dad wanted me to delete

Sad Angus

11 January 2017:

Angus’s DNA results are in! Amazingly, Donald Angus McDonald has DNA 46% Great Britain, 45% Ireland – 91% British Isles.

3% Scandinavia (but no Finland or northwest Russia), 2% Italy or Greece.

There are “trace results” (less than 1 percent, insignificant and possibly an artifact) for western Europe, eastern Europe, the Iberian peninsula and Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan).

We’re having fun imagining him as part of the Golden Horde but… no.

Zero from Africa, America, Pacific Islander, West Asia, South Asia, East Asia and all sub-regions thereof.

White bread everywhere

10 January 2017:

January 2017

4 January 2017:

Deep breathing at the Heads

Port Phillip Heads 4 Jan 2017

4 January 2017:

Jen Clarke thank you for that beautiful letter you wrote Angus, in the beautiful card.

The back of the card says, “It is said that the kind of dog you own says a lot about your personality. […] Bill Clinton owned a labrador named Buddy.”

Which may explain Bill’s inclination to hump everything in sight?

Dad and I discussed what our dogs say about us, which led to reminiscences of all the dogs we’ve ever owned.

We discussed who and what my next dog might be.

We agreed Joshua is a little beaut. Then Dad joined Josh in Dad’s bed, with the Tosh boy graciously making room.

Btw sadly Dad can’t drink red wine, has a visceral aversion now to any alcohol (or rich foods, or almost any foods). But he will enjoy the shortbread, in delicate-sized helpings.


Angus with Josh

3 January 2017:

ECG at Cardiology, Geelong Hospital.


Lovin this CD. There There.

ECG completed and I”m happy to report my heart is a rodent: tough as 💞

2 January 2017:

Elizabeth has found a book we think my paternal grandmother Edie had when she married in 1913: ‘A Friend in the Kitchen’, by Mrs Anna L Colcord.

Mrs Colcord was a Seventh Day Adventist advocating vegetarianism, passionately.

The little essays throughout the book are gems. There2 a 4-page essay arguing the religious, moral, social case for vegetarianism.

Dad says Edie was impervious.







1 January 2017:

Land art, stone circle mandala by Katie Griersar, ‘everything changes, nothing is lost’ (2014) #womensart

Katie Griersar, 'everything changes, nothing is lost' (2014).jpg

31 December 2016:

Obviously, 2016 has had its challenges. It’s obvious 2017 will have, too.

Cathy has a practice now of asking before she goes to sleep each night, “What can I do tomorrow to be kind to myself?”

My friend Michael asks www: What went well?

I gave my mother a book for Christmas called How to Hygge – “hygge” (pronounced “hugger”) being a mode-ish Danish word that loosely translates to comfort, contentment, cosiness, safety.

We’re not big huggers in my family, but recently we’ve been trying it out. It feels good.

I thought maybe this coming year I might aim for a hug, and a hygge experience, every single day.

Other than that, I hope it’s a year of birds and flowers.

I wish you hugs, and hygge, and birds and flowers, too.

Much love


31 December 2016:


The CDs I selected to live in the car-that’s-now-on-loan-to-me-from-the-parents fit PRECISELY into the Japanese box I never quite found a use for!

It must be meant 💘

Car CDs

Dad has gifted me his immense collections of vinyl, CD and cassettes. He thinks I might get $$ putting them on eBay. Meanwhile I have all the vintage 30s-70s stuff I could ever hope for 💘

It’s a random chaotic mess, like all his stuff. Eventually I’ll do an inventory 😊

31 December 2016:

“Black cockatoos are somewhere under the sun: / Down with the mattocks, let the wild couch-grass run. / Take the gully-road, slide on the sticks and stones/ And wait for the artists of Heaven, the crested ones.” Francis Webb

Black cockatoo

29 December 2016:

Words with no direct English translation, describing states of happiness 


28 December 2016:

25 December 2016:

Cathy and Angus consider dessert

Elizabeth (in the nightie we gave her for Xmas) with Cathy.

If Liz loses any more weight we’ll mistake her for mistletoe 🎋

Small white plastic beads from the Op Shop 😉 

We went for a beach walk – while Mum was still in full Op Shop finery – and several people she’s known for years failed to recognise her in her Sunday best. Might be because she’s got so thin.

The bag in the background reads: “For Xmas lunch. Do not eat or damage.”

Angus cops a shelf of trophies for Xmas: Best Story Teller, The One and Only, Most Loved Dad Ever, Favourite Father-in-law, Point Lonsdale Racqueteers Best Player Over 85… Spottiest Frog

Angus trophies

Angus and Liz eating toast and marmalade and drinking Earl Grey tea while watching Yogi’s First Christmas on TV, Christmas morning 2016 🎄

Merry Xmas 4 2016

24 December 2016:

Today is a new day

How to get up and get dressed

23 December 2016:

Elly McGrinch gives Xmas a two-fingered salute.






23 December 2016:

Merry Christmas all 🎄

Dad can’t drink and Cathy/Liz/I won’t but there’ll be champagne tonight when the McDonalds join [people] for Christmas dinner at Queenscliff marina.

I roasted a turkey last night and had turkey with cranberry sauce, corn cob and salad solo for dinner last night. Cherries for dessert. Turkey 2.84kg so it’s cold turkey with Angus and Liz for lunch today and probably a few days to come 

It’s actually rather beautiful when we as a family get to be together. Yesterday seemed like there wasn’t a moment without phone calls, visitors, appointments – way too much, constant responding to other people, and way too much of it creating anxiety, frustration snd anger. Peace on Earth? Like, yeah.

22 December 2016:

We have MORE interstate visitors arriving any minute. These ones will be in Point Lonsdale 3 days. CAN’T THEY LEAVE IT ALONE LONG ENOUGH FOR ANGUS TO REST? And for me to clean the house.

No one welcome 1-4pm. Piss off.

Things found randomly in my Dad’s study.


7 days. One of these people I have never met, or even heard his name. Angus introduces me and he replies (to Angus), “Very attractive”. I am thinking WHAT’S IT TO YOU, DICKHEAD?

The other, the bi-polar guy given to manic grandiosity, lurches in for a hug and I am like a 7 y.o schooled in Stranger Danger: MY BODY IS MY OWN. BACK OFF.

I decline to offer them tea.

20 December 2016:

To escape having a cold, and general malaise, I am time travelling: via Justin Hill’s Viking Fire, the second novel in his Conquest Trilogy, one of The Sunday Times’ books of the year, focused on King Harald Hardrada of Norway.

Last night I was 15 years old, wounded, trekking across winter mountains from Norway to Sweden. Then I was in my 20s, gifting a leopard cub to an Empress.

I know it won’t end well, but what a journey!


20 December 2016:

Whoever gave me a cold for Xmas, I hate them for eternity. I can’t see my Dad in case he catches it. It’s been one day and he says he misses me. My mum says it’s ok, he’s robust; but he bloody isn’t.

Don’t know don’t know don’t know. Will see how I am tomorrow

18 December 2016:

Beach village desperation.


17 December 2016:

My father shocked me today when he asked if pogroms predated Hitler. He seemed to think anti-Semitism started in post-WW1 Germany. I can only think this is cognitive slippage in old age and illness, as Dad, having been a child in the ’30s, went on to be a student of economics, politics and modern history.

Yet knowledge of modern history *is* vanishing, replaced by Hollywood distortions (Inglourious Basterds), denial, and a galloping cynicism that buys into conspiracy theories and a belief that everything we’ve been told is propaganda.

When I was 22, in 1983, I went to an adult education course where my classmates included 3 older women, post-WW2 Jewish refugees. Two spoke with heavy accents and the third, after 35 years in Australia, barely spoke English at all. Her friends explained she rarely ventured outside the Jewish emigre community.

I asked if they’d encountered anti-Semitism in their early years in Australia.

“Oh darling,” one woman laughed. “No. People here didn’t know what a Jew WAS.”

I suppose part of the problem is when we can’t admit our ignorance, and *think* we “know” the stranger.

Openness to learn is more important than ever. But in a media age, what media do we trust?

17 December 2016:

Angus has met up with the palliative care doctor and the palliative care nurse. The doctor, David, thinks Dad will make it to February, and says medication can manage the pain with Angus remaining lucid most of that time.

Meanwhile both Angus and Liz are suddenly quite skinny. We need to keep them eating.

Gotta get [Liz] to EAT. I think it’s vitawheats and tea unless there are guests.

I think as a family at the moment we feel like we’re doing well 💚

But it’s not ok. This is palliative care for terminal untreatable cancer.

17 December 2016:


15 December 2016:

Dad took Mum’s old Hyundai in for servicing ahead of it being handed on to me.

He pulled the “terminal illness, no time to hang about” line to make sure he could pick up the serviced car by lunch time.

When he got back the car was ready and there was this note:


Louise Eggleston, Dad was so moved by your letter, which I won’t make public. He burst into tears and said “I wish people weren’t so NICE! I can handle anger and aggression, but I HATE kindness!”

Translation: He loves you like a daughter.

15 December 2016:

Dad is very firm that palliative care should include checking out a time of his choosing.

He says he feels sorry for me (and Cathy, assuming Peter dies first) because we won’t have family around us when we die. But he got quite angry when I told him Cathy and I both plan to check out early; not having kids and a husband means there’s no purpose in me sticking around.

He said I can stick around as long as I like: not having loved ones dependent does NOT determine the value of my life.

On a similar note:- we’ll none of hang around “because there are books to write!” Uncle Hugh is trying to convince Angus to write a memoir about dying, because “it could help others”. I told him (yes! We’re speaking!) Dad could not be less interested. Interested in writing about his childhood, his youth, his birth family, his birth home – but not about death or dying.

14 December 2016:

Someone made a reference to their after-life, playing a harp by the Pearly Gates.

I asked, “What will you be playing, Dad?”

Angus (immediate, with gleeful grin): “TENNIS!”

14 December 2016:

Sudden overwhelming need to contact my friend Lou Benson, who I grew up with in Adelaide. Thanks to the magic of Google and LinkedIn, mission accomplished.


13 December 2016:

In my ‘Death & Dying’ reading list I have now read Australian writer Cory Taylor’s Dying: a memoir.

Cory Taylor investigates the big ones: Life, and Death, and Family, and Home. Oh, and Art and Time and Desire and Love. The relations between Body and Consciousness.

At times it’s a soap opera. At one point I put it down and thought, Is that all life is? A soap opera? Then she’ll make gold thread connections. I’m not doing her justice, I’m making her writing sound portentous when it’s delicate, sensitive.

She resolves it as a screenwriter would: Fade to black.


13 December 2016:

Reading Max Porter’s novella Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which is both a response to poetry (Ted Hughes, Emily Dickinson) and is poetry.

“We are all agreed the book will reflect the subject. It will hop about a bit.”

What between the bat-shit crazy allegorical Crow and that large tub of Macha Green Tea White Chocolate Wafer ice-ceram (how did I only see “green tea”?), I am finding it hard to concentrate. The book lets me peck at it.


12 December 2016:

Today my cousin Petrana, her two kids and my aunt Marilyn made Angus and Liz – and me and Cathy – very happy by visiting from Sydney.

Noah and Liv brought artwork as gifts for Angus: the portrait is by Noah, the thing-where-the-first-letter-of-each-line-spells ANGUS is by Liv.

The sun shone and Angus laughed and Liv and Noah went swimming in the sea and took turns walking Bella the poodle.






12 December 2016:

Two years today since Toby’s death.


11 December 2016:

The well-being room: featuring Dad’s exercise bike (gifted), step, Swiss ball, off-road bike, yoga mat, block and bolster, relaxation CDs and Bach cello suites, exercise shoes, my Great Gatsby party costume for Friday (Lord how I do NOT want to do that), Andrey’s painting, Cathy’s watercolour, Leeanne’s print, the Japanese painted hanging screen, and Doctor Who on the DVD player in the corner.

Haven within home.


10 December 2016:

The McDonald Xmas tree. Decorated by Cathy.


8 December 2016:

In an ambulance being driven to hospital. Suspected heart attack. But probably not.

I hear the paramedic say, “I gave her more morphine. It made her worse.”

7 December 2016:

Another task off Dad’s ‘To do’ list:- new shade sails installed.

There was a bit of a ruckus coordinating with the neighbour over the timing of the tree surgery, won’t go into it but Dad got very, very upset, which made me very, very upset; our kind friend Greg is liaising from here.

It was very not good. V distressed Tuesday night. Yesterday much better for all.


Josh has gained a kilo when he should have lost 2kg. He has pronounced thickening on his back right knee joint which will be bothering him. Business as usual – Loxicom for the pain and Synovan as his 6-monthly anti-arthritis treatment program. Vet is under instruction to make sure Josh outlives Dad; Angus couldn’t bear Josh dying.

The betting is on Angus going first 😦

6 December 2016:

Mum and Dad’s new car. Er, Mum’s new car.

Dad left a note in the trade-in car for the new owner, because he thought the CD system might be a bit complex: “Press LOAD and insert a disc while READY indicated in green”.


5 December 2016:


The current owners of the grand house where my father was born and grew up have replied to my letter with a wonderful email updating us on their plans to landscape the grounds and restore some of the house’s original features.

They made Dad so happy by telling us they see themselves as custodians rather than owners, and that it seems to them EVERYONE in Mt Gambier knows and loves this house.

Angus has responded by immediately writing long-hand notes recounting further house tales.


Dad says this was about 1946, and that during WW2 the maintenance on garden and house fell away. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer not long after, she made it a project to revive house and garden.

4 December 2016:

Wonderful to have our very dear friends Mary Christie and Seb Dickins visit from Sydney this weekend: it meant a lot to all of us.

A few local friends are dropping by without phoning first expecting Angus to be in shape for visitors any time. They bring casseroles. Angus is barely able to eat still – or yet – and Liz frets about freezer space. Lots of love though, and I’m grateful.

Angus was so happy to have Seb and Mary here, and he held up well yesterday, but today was difficult. It’s very confronting to see how unwell he really is.

2 December 2016:

Bringing Young Angus home from hospital in 15 minutes.

[My short story Old Angus] won The Australian’s 20th Anniversary Short Story Prize for Young Writers (under age 25) in 1984.

One of the judges – an old school newspaper editor – told me he liked its naturalism. “A lot of the stories weren’t stories,” he said.

Old Angus was 86, not 90. Edie wasn’t mad: she was sometimes angry. Ila is reconfigured as Laura, as a nod to Tennessee Williams’ Laura, his fictionalised sister, in The Glass Menagerie.

1 December 2016:

I turned into a viper last night and was still baring fangs and lashing this morning.

Fortunately my very kind friend Heather complicated her day by driving to Point Lonsdale with cappuccino and brownies, and spent time in the sunshine being companionable.

I am lucky to have caring friends. Thank you.

Pictures: Viper. Sunshine. One of these is healing.






30 November 2016:

Our beach is, still, strewn with bluebottles.

One of hundreds.


30 November 2016:

Angus plans the playlist for his wake.






I’m spinning out a bit today. I’m particularly pissed off at a person who I told to phone or email if she wished but not to visit, for good reasons I won’t go into. She phoned Liz today and asked to visit.

[Later] The surgeon has phoned to say the operation went well. Angus is just coming out of the anaesthetic now. Tomorrow he’ll meet with the palliative care team and then Liz and I can collect him and bring him home.

[Later] Angus won’t be coming home today due to raised blood pressure. We don’t want to worry Liz with this.

So happy [our friend Mary] and Seb and Millie are able to visit us 💚 There’s accommodation at my place for any or all of [them] and also at Cathy’s, 30 mins down the highway.

Angus pre-surgery

30 November 2016:

Tidal (1984)

In the laundry we found a postcard

Victorian erotica

a woman with blancmange buttocks and

a tentative smile

like her

malleable curves, bovine

eyes: a Gibson

girl, in sepia tones, her body

all graceful billows, as

rich as her husband’s wheatfields

her breasts, white as orchards in bloom


featured honey-lips and now

decades later, her country child

wades through pock-coral tidal pools


he still finds relics

of a ship smashed by the bay

shards of pottery

pitted like daguerreotype

shattered, once-sharp edges smoothed

now aged, in submarine silence

he assembles the fragments for

mantelpiece display – a voyeur


he holds them with the tenderness

of her remembered



29 November 2016:

Angus update: Dad will have surgery at 6pm tomorrow (Wednesday). The bile duct has been closed by the tumour in his pancreas pressing against it; bile is not draining, Angus has turned yellow, his liver is collapsing.

A metal stent will be inserted via a tube to enable bile to flow as it ought. If this operation is successful it will have zero effect on the progress of his cancer but he will be able to eat again.

I’ve just eaten a mega-bag of Smarties and I feel sick… but Dad tells me he’s had fish and mashed potatoes, orange juice, ice cream and jelly as his hospital dinner, and so far no probs, so that’s pretty good 

He said he felt emboldened to tackle the meal as in a hospital environment he has expert support. Also, yesterday when he said he was sometimes dizzy and was having trouble concentrating I pointed out he’d barely eaten for 10 days and was starving.

Smarties really crap idea. I am stacking on heaps weight and have gone up yet another clothes size. Eating for two?

I’m a bit wrecked – woke up c.1.30am and only slept patchily after that. Bloody Smarties 😉

28 November 2016:


28 November 2016:


28 November 2016:

Angus goes into St John of God’s cancer ward at 11am Tuesday to have a stent surgically inserted in his blocked bile duct Wednesday afternoon, so that he can hold down food.

He is yellow. Angus, but yellow.

25 November 2016:

Angus main street Mt Gambier

No concerns about going public: a Probus club member knocked on the parents’ door just now and asked Angus, brightly, “How are you?”

Angus: “I’m dying. No, really. I have aggressive, inoperable pancreatic cancer.”

So the cat’s well and truly out of the bag.


There was a friend he met outside the local store who he was updating when an acquaintance walked past and overheard. The acquaintance immediately burst into tears and flung herself on Angus, sobbing and trying to hug him. Friend A has to prise the interloper off.

24 November 2016:

So. Angus has an extremely aggressive pancreatic cancer which is untreatable. Palliative care only for the short time remaining.

He will have surgery next week for a blocked bile duct on his gut which has meant he can’t keep food down.

People who know Angus and Liz: please don’t contact them just yet.

Angus will be doped up quite soon, and his time-frame is short, so friends who know him and Liz and want to make contact while he’s still compos mentis, I will let them know today. […]

I’ve arbitrarily gone public: feel free to contact them from tomorrow on liz.angus@**** or (+61) 03-**** **** – if phoning, please don’t 1-4pm when he sleeps, or after 7pm AEST. Thanks

Also, if speaking to Liz, be aware there is a touch of dementia, which she does not acknowledge, and quite a bit of anxiety and depression.

I’m thinking of moving the agave [Lou] gave me (which I found, in my garden) across to the little sun-garden outside Dad’s bedroom, which Peter and Cathy are doing a makeover on to make appealing both to look at from the bed and also to sit in ♡

24 November 2016:

Initial test results for Angus very, very scary. Prayers please.

LOL Cathy texted to say on the admissions form under ‘Existing conditions’ they forgot to fill in “prostate cancer, emphysema, asthma”… and Alzheimer’s?

He’s handling it well right now.

21 November 2016:

Supposed to be 39C today, with high winds. Dad’s with the doctor, Mum has another cardiologist consult tomorrow. The dog isn’t moving. Don’t know what to do with myself.

Ahmo's picture of Elly and Toby 2002

Angus back from GP appt where various tests were done, more scheduled, imaging appt in Geelong tomorrow alongside Liz who was already booked for imaging.

Dad has a 9.30am appt Thursday to find out what his tests showed. The test process this morning he describes as torture. He still throws up if he tries to eat and has other gastrointestinal probs too. Liz was told the risk of stroke if they try to correct her arrhythmia is too high so if she feels better on the medications then that’s all that’s required. Liz says she has a greenlight to go to HK. Angus is anxious about his test results.

Glam factor not high.

20 November 2016:

Beautiful lunch for Cathy’s 57th birthday at Gladioli restaurant in Inverleigh, followed by Angus throwing his guts up out the car window by the side of the Hamilton Highway.

Peter and Cathy drove back so Peter could do an immediate medical check. Angus is rugged up with a water bottle and paper towels and we cleaned off the mess. Peter says he needs to see his GP asap tomorrow. He has no appetite and for the first time ever almost no capacity for alcohol. He was very unwell this morning but we didn’t want to cancel Cathy’s birthday lunch.

I can’t see how they [Angus and Liz] can possibly go to Hong Kong 😦

1 Comment

Old Angus (1984)

Every Sunday, he used to stand by the front window and yell abuse at churchgoers. Sometimes he stood on the lawn and shook his fist at them. Directly across the road, a small Roman Catholic church lies meek in the face of aggression, its whitewashed walls shadowed by an Anglican cathedral towering alongside. Old Angus has no interest in the Anglican cathedral; his fight is with the Roman Catholic god.

He knows he’s losing. After a twenty year battle he’s all but yielded sight; now, his being is demanded. Knowing he’s dying, Old Angus resents it. He rages. For hours he debates unhearing politicians – they on radio and television, he in his solid, ancient bed. A spent force, he is unforgiving.

“I’m ninety”, he tells Young Angus. “If I were a cricketer, I’d have to say I’d had a good innings.”

Not being a cricketer, he doesn’t believe it.

Young Angus sits by his bedside and worries, caring so much he can barely listen.

“D’you remember”, says Old Angus, “That tale about Johnny? How you used to tell me about your girls?”

Young Angus, tired, looks blank.

“You remember, lad? I’d laugh at you. You know the one. In Scotland, the son would come to his dad and say ‘Dad, I’ve found me a perfect lass’. ‘Aye, aye, Johnny?’ the dad would say. ‘Father, I mean to ask her to marry me!’ Johnny tells his dad, and his dad says ‘Aye?’ Maybe she won’t have me’ worries the son, and ‘Aye’, says the dad, ‘Aye, aye’… You remember, lad?”

“Oh, aye”, Young Angus reassures him, truthfully. “I wanted to marry Beth, and you told me about Johnny. I’m glad you never told me what to do.”

“I thought you’d be disappointed again”, Old Angus sighs, shifting uncomfortably in his sheets. “I thought she’d be scared away by Laura. I though maybe Evie might scare her away.”

“Evie never scared anyone but you”, Young Angus reproves him, rearranging the bed clothes.

In the other bedroom, Beth is dying Emma’s hair with Laura looking on. Emma’s triple image, reflected in an old, three-way mirror, commands all eyes. The girl herself perches stiffly on the bed, her self-conscious, fifteen year-old body stretched regal and long. A scheming princess, arrogant neck destined for the block, she notes with satisfaction the way her hair rests in damp curls, piled up away from her face. (Emma, immersed in vanity’s haze, recalls an incident from early childhood, taunting as she yanked a playmate’s pigtail: “I have hair like a princess”, sneered Emma, “And you have hair like a rat’s tail!” Soon after, her blonde began to darken. Old Angus, gazing down from his superior height and seeing only nutmeg, had tussled the strands, saying “Never mind, lass – not every princess has golden curls”.)

“You look lovely!” grins Laura, and Beth beams back at her. Emma, coppoer-brown and all but naked in sheer underclothes, says nothing.

“Here”, says Beth. “Throw on a dress and go in and show Old Angus.”

Old Angus guesses at Emma’s dislike. The young, he reflects, would prefer not to have to acknowledge old age. Emma shouldn’t have to confront death yet.

“You look just like Evie”, Old Angus tells Emma, who momentarily feels insult and fright. Evie, to her, is a mystery madwoman only referred to in furtive whispers. Emma juts her chin.

“Evie was your age when I first saw her”, Old Angus recalls, disregarding the distance between this child and him. “She was fourteen, and I thought she was beautiful. The boss’s daughter, you know? I had to sweep the shop and the verandah, and I’d loiter outside, waiting to see her come home from school. her father couldn’t stand me.”

Emma remains silent, but she’s listening.

“Well, what was I but trash? And Catholic, too! We were shanty types – Scottish Catholics, and fifteen kids! We lived in a riverside shack that flooded when it rained. We’d eat the fish left tangled in the furniture. We couldn’t read or write. Or the others couldn’t, anyway…

“But I wanted more, and I wanted Evie. She was a dream, that girl! A beautiful, round-faced, round-eyed dream. By that time I owned a store of my own.”

He smiles across at Emma, and reaches out his hand. She takes it awkwardly, not knowing what to say.

“He’s telling you about Evie?” asks Beth, balancing a laden tray as she pushes through the door.

“I was telling her how we first started out, before Laura”, Old Angus says. “Her whole family was against us marrying, but she always had a will, had Evie. I remember years later when we got that car. A terrible contraption, a car – it had me beat, alright! But Evie, she was determined to master it. She took it down to the paddock behind the house (this was when we still had the old place), and she forced that thing to work the way she wanted. It fought! It ran amok all over the croquet lawn. But she got the better of it, finally, and it never gave her a problem again.”

“Yes”, Beth smiles, seating herself beside him and carefully handing him a mug of warmed milk. “Yes, Evie was a brave one.”

“Aye”, says Old Angus, meeting her eyes quickly. “She was brave. She was brave with Laura. It wasn’t like she had a soul on her side.”

“Tell me”, Emma Frances demands. Her initials are E.F.M/, like her grandmother’s were.

“About Laura?” asks Old Angus, spilling some milk down his chin. Beth gently mops his neck with a tissue, mentally dismayed at how fragile his skin is.

“Better not”, Beth cautions, quietly.

“Why not?” The old man turns on her. “Why not let her know? I’m not ashamed of Evie. She was worth a dozen of any other person I ever met.”

“Go on, then”, Beth sighs, and he hunches over his mug, cloudy-eyed stare trained on Emma.

“She was, you know”, he nods. “She was worth a damn sight more than what she got. It’s not Laura’s fault. Laura was born a normal child. It was illness that did it. Illness and doctors. First polio, then meningitis. They put her in plaster. Imagine a child’s legs locked away in plaster, for a whole year! They said it would stop them trembling.

“She trembled worse, and her legs were so stunted she could hardly walk. Couldn’t talk properly either. And something happened to her brain.

“Well, you know country towns, and it was worse back then. People round here didn’t understand. They said Laura being struck down was an act of God, that Evie and I had brought it on our child. They said Evie and I must be to blame. Said it was Evie, acting like a man. Too forward, they said; too bloody ambitious.

“She’d dived into politics, Evie-style. Talking feminism, socialism… ‘isms’ we’d never heard of till then. She aimed to be a town councillor, and women could vote here in South Australia, so she wouldn’t let anyone tell her what was what. Unnatural, they said. The children of bad mothers always come to harm; bad mothers like Evie deserve it.”

“That’s not true”, protests Emma, and Beth – taking in her city-bred, modern daughter – wonders if Emma will develop into someone Beth can point to proudly and boast “Yes, that is the child I deserve”.

“The Church believed it”, Old Angus glowers. His hands shake, and milk splashes. “Laura wasn’t allowed to attend mass. They said she was simple, and couldn’t understand. Like she was a dumb animal. So, that was it between the Church and Evie, for all she’d tried so hard to fit in with those women. She’d worked herself to rags on their goddam charities…

“Restaurants, too – they said Laura and her trembles turned people’s stomachs. The said it wasn’t right to feed her in public, the way she slobbers and sometimes spills her food. But she wasn’t any worse than someone old, and I’m still a person, aren’t I?”

Beth takes the mug from Old Angus’s grasp. There are tears of frustration in his clouded eyes, frustration unexhausted after sixty years.

“It’s okay, Dad”, Beth reassures him. “We’ll always look after her.”

“I gave Evie a rough time”, Old Angus continues, trying to wipe his eyes on a pyjama sleeve. “She was hurt, you know. It made her strange. She got so odd, so set in her ways! She was always stubborn, always fighting. I remember when she found my whisky supply – I’d hidden it in the woodshed, ‘cos she wouldn’t have alcohol in the house. I could have killed her. I nearly did! I chased her all around with a knife for twenty minutes, and Young Angus hid up in the big tree and cried.”

“Young Angus thinks the world of you”, says Beth.

“He was a joy, that one.” Old Angus smiles fondly towards the open window. “When we still had the big house, I used to dress up as Father Christmas every year for the town pageant. All the children would climb on my knee and tell me what presents they were angling after. Young Angus clambers up and whispers he’s hoping for a big hunting knife, for when he goes rabbiting with his uncle Jock. Well, says I, I reckon your dad might decide a hunting knife’s too big for a small boy. Young Angus, he looks at me. ‘You look like my dad’, he frowns, ‘But my Daddy would give me what I want’. And bless him, I did. I always did. We spoil the fruits of our old age.”

That night, Young Angus keeps Old Angus company. Quiet pervades the room.

“How do you want to go, Dad?” Young Angus asks his father, low-voiced.

“I don’t want to go at all”, Old Angus snaps back, somewhere between a laugh and a sob.

“No, Dad, I didn’t mean it that way. The old ones in the family are planning the funeral. They want to know if you’ll do it Church or not.”

“Which church?” Old Angus glares.

“Dad, don’t make it hard for me. They want to see you reconciled. They want to see you return to the faith.”

“I’ll not return till they give me back my Evie, and that won’t happen in this world.” A fierce old man, blind and sunken-faced. He considers a moment, then asks more kindly “What seems best to you, lad?”

“I don’t know, Dad. There must be a compromise.”

Old Angus and Young Angus sit shoulder to shoulder, the old man supported by a pile of pillows. Suddenly Old Angus laughs.

“Yes!” he chuckles. “There’s a compromise of sorts. Next to the church, there’s that new cathedral – the C-of-E number. If we book me in there, we can ring our funeral bells all through their mass, and hold up the pious with our funeral procession! If we’re canny, we can clog up their carpark with our mourners’ carss. That’s having it both ways! Can you do it for me, lad? Can you fix ‘em?”

Young Angus would do, could do anything. He kisses the damp flesh of the old man’s head.

“Aye, aye”, says Young Angus, and hugs his father.




Hello to the current residents at 22 Jardine Street

My father, Angus McDonald, was born in 22 Jardine Street in 1931 and grew up there. He sold the house on behalf of my grandfather Angus McDonald in 1974.

My dad Angus was diagnosed yesterday as having an extremely aggressive, untreatable pancreatic cancer. He’s unlikely to see out the year and will probably spend much of his remaining time heavily medicated, in palliative care.

He wrote this short piece about the history of your house as he knows it quite some time back, but felt shy about posting it, and considered it unfinished. (It could never be finished. He has a rich trove of memories of that house and his childhood.)

I am mailing it now on his behalf as I think he’d be thrilled to think the current owners care about the house’s history and its past residents.

I hope the house is as happy a home for you as it was for Angus and for my sister Cathy and me as visitors throughout our childhoods.

Best regards

Elly McDonald

My father writes:

My name is Angus McDonald. I am 85 years old and I grew up in your house, 22 Jardine Street, which my parents Angus McDonald and Edith McDonald (nee Gibson) purchased in 1928 and moved into with my older sister Ila.

I wondered if you might be interested in the history of the house as I know it and some photos of its earlier incarnation? I can email jpeg.

22 Jardine Street was built in 1909 for Mr Jens and his wife, who owned and ran Jens Hotel. They had two daughters and a son, Dr John Jens who practiced in Ballarat. It was built – on the wrong north-south orientation, from a European architectural draft – to the design of a castle-style grand house in northern Germany and was originally known as Schleswig-Holstein after the north-west German state. During WW1 this name was changed for obvious reasons. My mother renamed the house ‘Gazebo’. Huge 16 foot high cypress hedges formed the boundaries on Hedley and Jardine Streets.

My mother Edie was a ferocious and skilled croquet player, so the area which I believe is now a pool was then a croquet lawn, with thick cypress hedge on two sides and purple hydrangeas in the flowerbeds alongside the house. The formal dining room overlooked the croquet lawn and had a small ‘butler’s room’ adjacent. My mother had a mahogany dining suite with the chairs upholstered in red and white striped satin, with a mahogany and glass cabinet to display crystalware, and an upright piano lacquered black. My mother and her sister Maude were both enthusiastic pianists. On the walls were Edwardian idyll pictures of the flower gardens overlooking the lakes in Northern Italy, Como or Bellagio.

The bedroom on the south-west corner, alongside the dining room, was my sister Ila’s, then later, after my mother died in 1957 and my aunt Maude moved in to keep house, it was Maude’s (“Ainee” for Aunty). During that period the famous ‘Green Lady’ exotic Chinese beauty print hung there (The Chinese Girl painting by Vladimir Tretchikoff, 1952).

In the large foyer area with the stained glass dome, two porcelain orange and white cocker spaniels stood guard along the fireplace. In the front bedroom, overlooking the path winding down to the front corner gate (Jardine/Hedley Streets), tall pictures of cranes in white and pink and turquoise tones flanked my parents bed, which had a white bedspread with pastel blue and pink embellishments, marzipan-style. I was born in the front (north) bedroom.

The porch area out front had a waist-high wall and overlooked the rose garden. My father Angus was a very keen gardener and also maintained a thriving vegetable garden alongside what was then the driveway. Edie did most of the planning and he followed instructions.

An extension was built at the kitchen end of the house which had a toilet, a laundry, lower-bedroom (Ila’s for a time) and a cellar. The concrete floor was painted emerald green. Ila was very colour-sensitive and went through phases where she was, in turn, passionate about green, then mauve, then bright yellow. She updated her décor to suit her favourite colour. The huge courthouse to the south-east of the house was a cellar used as storage (for instance, for the manual lawn mower) and a wood-shed and loft overlooking the lawn. My young daughters found my father’s Digger’s slouch hat in the loft one time and were fascinated.

Ila had been physically disabled by the polio epidemic of 1921-22. She never married and remained sharing 22 Jardine Street with Angus after Maude moved to Melbourne and through to when the house was sold in 1973. Angus and Ila downsized to a more manageable home just around the corner on Hedley Street. Angus died in 1977 and in 1982 Ila came to live in Point Lonsdale, Victoria, where my wife and I live. She passed away in 1994.

My father Angus was an Alderman and member of Mt Gambier Council for 27 years and was a committed Rotarian. My mother Edie was active in the Presbyterian church and, of course, her croquet club.

In 1950 Jardine Street was an unmade road or track from Mitchell Street to Crouch Street, and Hedley Street was merely a survey plan. Mitchell Street north was a cattle track down to the sale yards in North Terrace. Schleswig-Holstein sat on 4 acres of grazing land below the hillside between Hedley and Crouch Streets.

On his death, my father gifted land which was then pastoral (despite being on the main through highway) to the Council for the purposes of building a visitor information centre. That land is now developed. This area was known as the Frew Estate. He also sold land 2.5 acres as allotments on the north side of the highway across from the boundary greens.