Elly McDonald

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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.

angus-with-liz-in-fiji-2016


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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

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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.


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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.

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2 Comments

Schleswig-Holstein

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.

[unfinished]

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