Thursday, 5 September 2013

Sausage Sandwiches, Cake Stalls and How to Vote Cards

This Saturday, two days from now at schools and other designated polling stations around the country about fourteen million Australians will exercise their right (and their obligation under our compulsory system) to cast their vote for the next Australian Government.
For nearly thirty years, my wife and I (and later our adult children) turned up at our local primary school in suburban Sydney – the same school that our children had attended a few years earlier, and where we had been involved with the Parents Association for those years – negotiated our way through the obstacle course of party faithful proffering their “How to Vote” leaflets (they are called cards for some inexplicable reason) and joined the queue waiting in line to vote. We would always plan to vote early and thus avoid the congestion, but somehow we never did, so there was always the same frustration of looking for a place to park and realising we would have been better off walking from our home. Many of those handing out the leaflets were our friends – Tom, the ALP stalwart, John and Liz the Liberals and Keith from the Greens.  We never wanted to offend anyone so we accepted all the leaflets even though our minds were made up. After voting we dutifully handed them back on the way out.  Naturally, there was always a sausage sizzle run by the local guides or scouting group, a cake stall from the P&C and various other charities offering assorted bric-a-brac. Later that evening we met with friends for dinner and drinks while watching the outcome on TV and some of us celebrated and others did not.

This year we’re living in a different town, in a different state – not quite strangers in a strange land. But the local school where we will vote for the first time in our new electorate will still have the sausage sandwiches and there will no doubt be a few orange-clad Emergency Service workers, or the local Fire Brigade to distract us for a few minutes as we join line of voters. This year we are definitely going to get there early and we will walk. 
Sadly there will be no election night get-together with friends, but I dare say my wife and I will open a bottle of red, and sit in front of the TV. It shouldn't take too long this year for if the polls are anything to be believed and unless there is a dramatic change in public opinion, Australia will lurch to the right and enter into several years of conservative Federal Government.  I use the term conservative, rather than Liberal so as not to confuse those non-Australian members of my occasional reading audience.
Depending on how substantial this lurch is, we may well have a conservative majority in both houses of assembly (The House of Representatives and The Senate) and an opposition party so reduced in its ranks and the quality of its parliamentarians that even its leader may have lost his seat and even if that does not happen I’ll be surprised if he hangs around.

So what does this all mean for the Australian people?

Well to put it into perspective, our planet will continue (as it has done for the past four and half billion years) to travel about 150 million kilometres every 365¼ days in its orbit around the main-sequence dwarf star at the centre of the Solar System and as it does, it will also continue to rotate on its tilted axis once every 86,400 seconds.  During this time its only natural satellite will synchronously rotate about it every 27.3 days as the two bodies exert gravitational influences over one another.   As a result of this, the sun will rise the morning after the election and it will set again on Sunday evening.  At some time during the day the tide will come in, and later that same day, it will go out again.  The axis, being tilted such that the amount of sunlight reaching the surface varies over the course of the year means that our seasons will continue to change from Spring to Summer, from  Autumn to Winter and back again to Spring and in twelve months’ time, those of us fortunate enough to survive this sidereal cycle will be a year older, and perhaps even a little wiser – or not, who can say?

Most of us will breathe a sigh of relief that the torture associated with what has seemed a lifetime of electioneering and campaigning, pork-barrelling and fear-mongering will be over.  Our next government will get on with its job of separating intoxicating pre-election commitments into core and non-core promises and the rest of the population – those fortunate enough – will  go to work on Monday morning and get on with their job of trying to make a living.

I grew up in North Queensland in the 1950s and 1960s at a time when the ordinary worker was required to join a trade union.  Occupational health and safety was practically never mentioned or considered.  There was no such thing as superannuation and when a working woman married, she was obliged to leave her job and make way for a frequently less skilled single woman.  From 1964, young men on reaching their twentieth birthday took part in a sortition which required those whose birth date was selected to spend the next two years in full time National Service as part of the Menzies Government’s support of the US involvement in the Vietnam War and the ever present threat of the Domino Theory.
I mention this because even now over forty years later, I can remember the elation that many felt as 23 years of conservative Australian government under the stewardship of increasingly less charismatic leaders came abruptly to a halt with the “It’s Time” victory of Gough Whitlam.  A Labor Government was in power in Australia.  Conscription ended and Australian forces were withdrawn from Viet Nam.  A national health insurance scheme (Medibank as it was then known) was introduced and the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18.  China was officially recognised (it had after all been there quite a long time), and an Australian embassy opened in Beijing while at home focus was for the first time given to Aboriginal affairs and the environment. 
Three years later, it all came crashing down.  Whitlam was dismissed and in the subsequent election Malcolm Fraser won in a landslide which provided eight more years of conservative government until he was beaten by Bob Hawke in the election that ousted Labor leader, and later Governor-General, Bob Hayden said a “drover’s dog” could have won.
Six years ago in 2007 the Labor party under Kevin Rudd, defeated John Howard (who also lost his seat) with as much enthusiasm and triumph (for many of the true believers at least) as those celebrated victories of 1972 and 1983.  Since that time the country has survived the Global Financial Crisis without entering into recession and has an employment rate and a debt level that most of the western world can only dream about.  The country has been slowly reducing its carbon footprint, caring and providing more for its disabled than it has ever have done, improving its education standards and supporting increased superannuation levels which will protect its aging population into the future.
So why is it then, that more than half of our voters will by all projections, remove this government from office?
Is it because the overwhelmingly powerful media moguls (one in particular) want no part of a government which threatens their control of national networks?  Is it because Australia is a man’s country and the idea of a women at the very top was such an outrage that her performance as a prime minister was continually overshadowed by how she became leader? Has the sometimes hubristic performance of our current prime minister reached a point where voters just want to see the back of him now that we no longer emotionally subscribe to the concept of a “Westminster System” preferring to make our choice based on the presidential style of the party leaders?  There is no doubt that Labor did itself no favours at all and Mr Abbott has clearly gone from being the least likely Prime Minister in most people’s eyes a few years ago, to appearing to have a lay down misere which despite the fact that such a hand means it is so poor that the holder is certain of losing every trick played, in Australian gambling parlance is otherwise an “absolute certain” winner.
So much for the rhetorical questioning, cringeworthy as it all is – it won’t matter after Saturday, at least until the next election.

From a personal perspective, I hope most people will vote “below the line” in our complicated Senate election and in so doing will thus exercise their own preferences, not those of the political parties (minor parties included).  Control of both houses of parliament is not in my view a healthy situation for any government and a strong house of review may at least stall some of the more xenophobic and divisive changes which we may otherwise see over the next term of office.

And on Sunday and every day after that for the foreseeable future, the sun will come up and the sun will go down; the tide will come in and the tide will go out and if the theory of plate tectonics is all I believe it to be, Australia will continue to drift northwards at the breathtaking rate of somewhere between 10 and 15 cm every year.

Life here and in the rest of the world will go on and I will continue to remind myself of the comforting privilege of living in a democracy and not somewhere where corruption and violence determine who leads (or misleads) our country.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Walk 4 Water in 2014

This time last year I was living in the New South Wales town of Newcastle - a really nice place!  We moved there after 28 years living in the same house in suburban Sydney. We were not there for long - just a couple of years, but it made a lasting impression on us, and we're sure we will return one day. 

During the last week or so we were there, I enjoyed taking part in Walk 4 Water - a great way to explore the local area, while taking time to think about how easily we take for granted some of our most fundamental privileges.

As I did the walk last year, I kept a bit of a journal - I hope you take a moment to read it.  If you helped with a donation last year, you will know what it's all about.  If not - please click on the link below - you know you will want to!

Walk 4 Water 2014

Here's what I said in 2013 - I'm sure I'll have more to say this year - the message will be the same - and your contribution equally appreciated!

For those who haven’t been following, I have been on a five day mission to take ten thousand steps each day to raise money and awareness for Walk 4 Water. Why ten thousand? Well that’s about how far the average people, mostly women or children walk every day in the developing world to access water so that they can continue to exist.  My little effort is nearly over, but the work of WaterAid continues. Thanks to all of you who have contributed so far - you made sure I achieved and beat my goal and with a little more we can do even better. One of my contributors thinks it's a good job that I'm not asking you to pay by the word - I'll leave you, dear Reader to be the judge of that! Day Five was a bit of a mixed bag as you'll see below - meanwhile please remember what a difference it would make if I could just get just $5 from each person who reads this - and here is the place to do it - WALK 4 WATER 
Day 1
Today was Day One of my five days of Walk for Water.

So while my daughter Kathleen is doing her bit for Mencap on the other side of the world as she prepares for the London Marathon next month, my pathetic little contribution will be to walk each day for the next five days the same distance that the average people walk every day for water in the developing world.

I was in Sydney for a couple of days, so I thought I would start out with a brisk stroll around Darling Harbour - then down to the fish markets at Pyrmont, across the Anzac Bridge and back to Darling Harbour where I was able to indulge one of my favourite passions which is wandering around the Maritime Museum.

How ironic, therefore that one of the first things I should encounter on my walk was this.

It's pitiful I know. By comparison, what I am doing is so insignificant. Here I am with my designer sneakers, Cancer Council sunnies, and Factor 30 sunscreen trying to imagine the hardship that women in particular endure in the developing world.  Children can walk for hours to collect dirty water. They risk disease and are unable to attend school and yet less than $300 for example could pay for a tap stand in Timor-Leste providing water for five families.
So as I walk every day this week I'm going to think about this. Please help. If you have already donated -thank you so much. If not, please go to my fundraising website here.

Thanks friends – tomorrow it’s off to Nobbys for Day 2.
Day 2
Day 2 completed and another beautiful day in Newcastle (check here to see what I really think of the place).
The day started in Cooks Hill next to the netball courts near Marketown, with a leisurely stroll along Tooke Street and Parkway to what is probably my favourite part of this town, Bar Beach.
It really is a nice place to be and even when it's wet and stormy and we've arrived there by car, there is an immediate urge to get out of the vehicle and let the wind and the rain do its worst.
I consciously left the iPod and the ear-buds at home. I wanted at least in some minuscule way, to take a little time to think about the reason I'm doing this, and why I’m hoping that you too will want to follow the link to the Walk 4 Water website and donate. It's a little hard when you've got Bruce Springsteen or Paul Simon belting away, to think about those who are worse off than you.
WaterAid is a wonderful organisation whose mission it is to transform lives by providing access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation. There are over 750 million people on the planet who do not have access to safe water and that's over 10% of the world's population. We on the other hand, take for granted the fact that we turn a tap on - and there it is - at little more than a dollar a tonne.
I had more ground to cover from Bar Beach if I was to do my ten thousand steps, so I sprinted up The Hill (actually, I huffed and puffed up The Hill, but you weren't there to see, so allow me a little poetic licence); waved at a couple of hang-gliders (no I didn't); strolled along The Terrace past some expensive real estate; across King Edward Park and down to Newcastle Beach.
Come to think of it, maybe this is my favourite part of Newcastle. The Newcastle Ocean Baths have been there for over 100 years and the Art Deco landmark facade is something that I hope will still be there for our great grandchildren to enjoy.
But I had no time to enjoy it today - I had a mission to complete. So from the baths I walked along Shortland Esplanade, past a few crazy rock fishermen clinging on to their existence as white water leapt over the rocks at them, trying to sweep them to oblivion (OK, more licence. It was actually a nice day and the sea was gentle - but it could have been as I described), finally to Nobbys Beach; along past the lighthouse and on to the Breakwater.
It was at the Breakwater that I took a moment to sit on the rocks and stare enigmatically out to sea, making sure of course that I didn't get in the way of the handful of Japanese visitors who seemed determined to photograph Newcastle and Stockton on the other side of the river from every imaginable angle. I was at the end of my walk for today, about five kilometres from home and if I was doing this every day for real, it would be here that I would be filling up my containers for the return journey. Take a moment to look again at the picture on the top of the Walk 4 Water website. Those water jars look as though they hold at least two or three gallons of water, probably more. That's at least 20 or 30 pounds - maybe 12 or 13 kg.  How would you like to carry one of those babies under your arm full of water ever day for five or more kms for the rest of your life?
So I headed home, past the Foreshore, through town and back to Cooks Hill. I may do it again tomorrow - or maybe I'll head over to Merewether. Isn't it nice to have the choice?
Please help by visiting WALK 4 WATER and making a donation. The last time I looked the donations were just over $500 - that's enough so far to provide some of the pipes for a gravity-fed water system.
More tomorrow.

Day 3

Today’s destination was Merewether Baths and beyond.  At 7 am I set off at my usually jaunty pace, pausing only to allow the elderly and infirm to overtake me as I strode purposefully down Parkway on my way to Bar Beach where today I would turn right instead of yesterday's left.

I confess that I spent a bit of yesterday’s walk trying to work out mentally how much those ancient looking urns in the picture below must weigh when filled with water. It’s not easy to do the four thirds π r cubed thing in your head, particularly when I'm still thinking in gallons and inches rather than metric measures. So last night when I got home I got the calculator out (no, Andrea – not the slide rule!) and assuming a diameter of about 35 cm and allowing a bit for the flat bottom, I determined those things hold about 20 litres of water – and that, friends is 20 kilograms.

Having satisfied my inner nerd, I continued on past the Bar Beach Skate Bowl, apparently the biggest and deepest in the country and site of the recent Australian Bowl Riding Championships.  It was quite empty, and peering over the edge of the bowl I could understand why.  I for one was quite happy to keep my distance.  There would not be enough knee pads, helmets and arm guards to satisfy me I’m afraid.
Dixon Park Beach - water fountain
There’s a nice little hill at the southern end of Bar Beach which leads to Dixon Park Beach which I bravely jogged up determined not to be outdone by the athletic-looking mothers pushing their children up the same hill in what I can only describe as un-motorised urban assault craft. I think I beat them, but they later passed me on the straight as I paused here to refuel.
The walk along this part of the coastline is known as Bather’s Way and there is no doubt that the recent upgrade has been an extremely good use of Newcastle rate payers’ money.
But the highlight of the walk to Merewether (and maybe this is my favourite part of Newcastle!) is the Merewether Ocean Baths.  Built in 1935, the baths are, according to Wikipedia the largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere (so take that, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town) and while on the subjects of superlatives, the beach itself is the home of the Merewether Surf Life Saving Club, the oldest surf club in the Hunter Region.
Merewether Ocean Baths
Today was a magnificent day to be beside the sea, and provided a perfect example of why many Novocastrians always keep their “cossies” in the car. Unfortunately, armed as I was with Walk4Water pedometer and camera phone, I was not able to take a dip – perhaps tomorrow.
I knew I need a few more steps before I could turn back so I ventured on across the rocks and some wonderful examples of the residue from the region’s 250 million year old volcanic history for another few hundred metres before turning back to make my way home.
I need more money folks.  Do you know that one in three women around the world have no access to a safe toilet, threatening their health and exposing them to shame and fear? Water and sanitation aid provided to sub-Saharan Africa each year amounts to less per person than the price of a cup of coffee and yet for every single dollar invested in water and sanitation, there is an $8 return as an economic benefit through improved health outcomes, reduced costs and increased productivity.
So PLEASE, if you have not yet added your contribution to this great cause – I ask you to DO IT NOW.  You can donate here.
Tomorrow I’m going to get away from the ocean for a while and head over to Carrington and the Fish Markets.
Thanks for indulging me.

Day 4
I really do love this town! I was unable to get out early this morning, so today’s Walk4Water was a twilight effort through the city and out to Carrington.
The walk from Cooks Hill to the city is always pleasant. Through the park, past the bowling club and down to Laman Street and the Art Gallery (shame about the fig trees - I’m not going to comment on that Council decision, I got into enough strife with my views on the railway line).  I will say that the gallery is a wonderful place, with some very significant works and I truly hope that the good people of this town are able to prevail with their argument against any suggestion that it be relocated. I didn't dally today though – I needed to get through town and on to the Foreshore and Honeysuckle before it got too dark to take any decent photos. I love walking along the Foreshore – there is something so very special about a working harbour for an old salt like me, and the sombre blast of a ship’s siren is the most wonderful music to my ears any time of the day – even in the dead of the night.
From the western end of the Foreshore and Honeysuckle Drive my track heads north, past the entirely agreeable Albion Hotel (great selection of beers and good food), and on to the Sailing Club marina and the Fish Markets.

Now I am a great fan of sailing and never refuse an opportunity to go out on a sail boat, or even sit around on one tied alongside in the marina as long as there is plenty to eat and drink – and there usually is; but the real essence of this part of Newcastle, without the slightest shadow of a doubt is the collection of fishing boats between the Cowper Street bridge and the sailing club. Ah, if only I could translate these evocative smells into something physical for you to experience!
This was a point for me to think of others trying to access water and how different it is. With your help and the help of other sponsors Walk4Water is helping women like 35 year old Sakina, who lives in Aurigo village in the Upper East region of Ghana with her two daughters. She is expecting another baby this month. She says she used to collect water more than once a day, but now she is too heavy and can only collect water once. Her culture is such that the other women will bring her water on the day of her baby’s birth only. After that she will have to collect it herself. She walks 7 km to the river. She knows the water isn’t safe to use but she has no choice.
For us, pregnancy without clean water is unimaginable and we can help. Just go to my sponsor page and pledge your support. You know how important this is!
After the leaving the Fish Markets I headed across the bridge at Cowper Street, enjoying the sight of the dragon boaters and the standing board paddlers (how do they do that?) and followed the path around past the rowing club and along the waterside. I hadn’t been in this part of the city before, and it was a wonderful surprise to come across the mangrove boardwalk through the muddy wetlands which form part of this Throsby catchment area. They are in healthy condition and I hope they can keep it that way – plastic bags and empty containers are the bane of fauna in these areas – but I won’t start on that topic or I’ll go on forever. I zigged and zagged along the boardwalk and soon found myself back in industryville as my trail came out into the road which leads back down to Port Waratah docks.  This brought me soon to one of my favourite streets in Newcastle - Young Street.  If ever there is a part of Newie which exemplifies the character and the history of this town it has to be Young Street, Carrington. This is a street that lives. I walked past a three year old girl, standing on the nature strip in front of her home, with her dad and a big pink plastic ball telling him in no uncertain terms to throw it properly, while Mum leaned against the porch with a cold glass of something in her hand which I thought I was nearly ready for. I walked past the old Council Chambers, the Everyman Theatre, the Fire Station and the charming St Thomas Church and at the end of the street (three pubs within walking distance of each other - wonderful) I turned right and headed back to the Fish Markets and on home. I can only imagine what Carrington was like fifty or sixty years ago - I know I would have liked it.
Tomorrow I will be out of town for the day, so Day 5 will have to wait until Saturday – and no, despite the temptation, I will not be doing my walk around a golf course trying to whack a little white ball.  Apart from the fact that this would probably be much more that 10,000 steps, I think that might not quite be entering into the spirit of the event.  No, I’ll leave that pleasure until Sunday.

Day 5
Today was a bit of a mixed bag. I didn't think I would be able to get my ten thousand steps in since my day job required me to spend the day in Sydney - but I thought I'd give it a go and see what happened. So I put the pedometer on my belt and set off shortly after six in the morning to walk to Newcastle Station to catch the Sydney train. I thought it would be good to do the walking today with a little taste of what it might really be like to walk for water, so I made sure my backpack was well loaded with the files I needed for the day as well as my computer. I threw a bottle of water in for good measure, but I don't suppose the whole thing came to much more than four or five kilos. I was getting off lightly. I caught the 0648 train to Sydney Central which as usual at that time of the day from Newcastle Station meant that I just about had the carriage to myself.
This would be a good moment to tell you briefly about the Newcastle to Sydney rail service. In terms of Great Railway Journeys of the World - this is not one. The Bullet Train services which operate in Japan and which are fast, clean and highly efficient are known as Shinkansen. With wonderful gallows humour the Newcastle to Sydney service is widely referred to as the "Shitkansen". I won't go into detail - Matthew Hatton describes it much more eloquently than I ever could in a piece he wrote for his website here.
As it happened my trip south was relatively peaceful and uneventful, which is more than I can say for the return journey, but that's another story.
About two and a half hours later we arrived in Hornsby where I changed to catch the local North Shore line since my destination today was in North Sydney. I got off at St Leonards having decided to walked the last two kilometres to my appointment. It was about 30 degrees Celsius and I was dressed for a formal meeting, so I was probably looking less like the elegant and debonair fellow I usually am when I arrived, but these people are good friends, and have already contributed to the Walk4Water cause, so that was OK. Many women and children in developing countries spend hours each day walking miles to collect water which is usually dirty and unsafe, but they have no alternative.
Unlike my backpack, carrying heavy water containers is an exhausting task, which takes time and energy. It prevents women from doing vital domestic or income generating work and stops children from going to school. Mangalita Siamajele lives in Zambia and when the river bed is dry she walks miles to the waterhole carrying a water bucket on her head. She struggles to walk as she has a bad hip and the water bucket which she sometimes carries twice a day weighs 20 kg. WaterAid helps people like Mangalita to build safe water supplies.
After my meeting I walked a further kilometre or two to Waverton Station but you know, it was all down hill and, having drunk my water, the backpack was really very light. The trip to Hornsby was again uneventful. The first sign of any concern about what was to come arose when I changed at Hornsby for the Shitkansen ride north.  I had about half an hours' wait for the train, and Platform 5 was looking ominously full of very determined travellers. I decided to wait at the end of the platform so that I could get into the front carriage - the so-called "quiet carriage".  As the train rolled into the station my worse fears were realised. The train was full.  What ever prompted me to think that catching the train from Hornsby was a good idea? I could have easily gone from Waverton to Sydney Central and caught the train from there. It would have been empty and if nothing else, I would have had a choice of where to sit.
It was a dreadful journey. If this was the quiet carriage, I shudder to imagine what the others were like. With due consideration to the New South Wales Department of Transport in general and CitiRail in particular, I will spare the details. At one point I did post a dreamy tweet that one of these days I would time my day to coincide with that mythical CountryLink train that stops only at Broadmeadow and provides succour to the weary traveller. I received a response from one of my Newcastle friends wanting to know whether this was the one that was pulled by golden unicorns.
Good humour and hearing all but gone by the time I arrived by in Newcastle, I still had the energy to walk back home ready to freshen up and wash the day away with a cold drink. As I walked in the door my pedometer was showing that I had taken 8,400 steps during the day - but I'm sorry to report that I did not have the wherewithal to turn around and make up the difference.  For those of you disappointed by this, please rest in the knowledge that I was out just after sunrise this morning and my wife and I had a wonderful walk down to Bar Beach and back - no pain at all!
Thank you all for indulging my ramble over the past few days - but it is not over yet - I really would like you to donate to this cause - I can almost promise you that you won't hear from me again on this topic.  Meanwhile please put your cursor right HERE and click.

Thanks again for humouring me.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

My Father

 I wrote this little piece in honour of my father earlier this year.  Now on this day 6 July 2013, it is exactly 100 years since his birth and so I'll take a moment to re-visit these few words and remember the lovely man that he was. I am certain that I am not the only son or daughter who remembers his parents and thinks on things left undone so as Mike Rutherford once said let's leave nothing unsaid in these Living Years. 
Happy birthday, Dad - and God bless.
As I write this, I am remembering that it was on this day, and at this time, just twenty five years ago my father died.
I was at work at my office in Brookvale in the Sydney Northern Beaches area when I received a call from Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. The call was from the doctor who was looking after my father. My dad had a week or two earlier travelled to Brisbane from his home in Cairns for radiation therapy and he had been staying at the home of my mother during this time. The doctor wanted me to know that my father, who had been admitted for observation a couple of days ago complaining of stomach cramps, was actually quite poorly and she thought that it would be good if I could travel up to Brisbane from my home in Sydney to see him. My brother and sister were both living in Cairns at that time, and it was a much quicker and easier trip for me to travel north than for either one of them to travel south. 
I left work immediately and after a quick detour home to collect some overnight things was soon on a plane for the one hour flight north. I took a cab from Brisbane Airport to the hospital on the other side of the city and arrived there some time around four o'clock in the afternoon. Given the one hour time difference resulting from daylight saving in NSW, it had been about three hours from my receiving the call from the doctor until I arrived at the hospital. 
But I was about an hour too late. I was taken to his bedside, where he lay peacefully, looking for all the world like he had just dozed off for a few minutes. I think this was the first time that I had ever seen a deceased person. I didn't feel anger or any other emotions one associates with such an event. I do remember feeling that perhaps I should feel something, but it didn't happen - at least not then anyway. I sat with Dad for perhaps twenty minutes during which time I told him that I was sorry I hadn't said a proper goodbye and that we all were going to miss him very much - but that was about it.  
I spent the night in Brisbane at my mother's house in Wynnum and flew back to Sydney the next day, in time for the New Years' Eve party which we had arranged a few weeks earlier, and which despite my wife's suggestions to the contrary, went ahead and was enjoyed by all. A week later, I travelled north again, this time to Cairns where we all gave him the send off that he deserved as we laid him to rest in the lovely Forest View Park Lawn Cemetery beneath the White Rock peak to the south of the city.

So this little story is about my Dad - a wonderful man who for as long as I can remember wanted nothing more than the best that life could bring for his family. 
As a child, I remember him as a strict disciplinarian. Like many of his generation, he was the product of an interbellum upbringing by a single parent mother who had lost her husband in the Great War. His father had enlisted as a sapper in the Royal Engineers and was accidentally killed at Aldershot Rifle Range in 1915 after having survived the worst that the Hun could throw at him in Flanders thoughout the previous year. His mother worked as a parlour maid in houses in London and Margate, while Dad and his elder sister were raised by an aunt and uncle in Norfolk. Dad was eventually apprenticed as a motor mechanic in Margate and later as a young man he moved to Nottingham in the Midlands where he met my mother. They were married in 1938.  When they first met, my mother was a telephone receptionist at a firm of motor parts suppliers and the story goes that young Arthur used to come to the counter for spare parts and invite her to come for a spin on his motor bike.  As Mum used to tell the story, he would pull up out the front and pat the pillion seat on his motorbike, indicating with a toss of his head that she should join him. 
Dad volunteered for active service during the Second World War but was turned down because his occupation was considered an essential service. Instead he served as a member of the Home Guard and the Volunteer Fire Service.
For a little while after the war he had his own garage business, but it clearly wasn't a great success and he later worked as the workshop foreman at the Brough Superior Motor Cycle Works, manufacturers of the machine which was at the time considered the Rolls Royce of  motor cycles.  By all accounts he was highly regarded by George Brough and I don't think I ever remembered Dad describe him as anything but "Mr Brough" and in the most reverential of terms. He was there until 1955, when in search of a better life for us all he brought us to North Queensland, Ten Pound Poms on the SS Strathaird. My parents separated just over ten years later, after about 27 years of marriage, but they remained good friends until the day he died. 
Sometime in 1970 following a car accident Dad suffered a stroke which resulted in many months of mental agony whilst he worked to regain his powers of speech. His persistence and that of my lovely sister, Jean and her husband Gordon paid off and he was eventually able to return to work.

I left home in 1965 to spend a few years in the Merchant Navy but in 1973 Dad and I went for a holiday together to England - for him it was the first time back there since he left 28 years earlier. It was there that at the home of one of his nephews I met the girl who is now my dear wife and as a result spent the next nine years living in the UK where two of Dad's grandchildren were consequently born.
Dad died of cancer. He'd had it for ten years, but thanks to his fitness and his spirit, his quality of life was excellent and I don't think I ever remember him complaining - not about his health anyway. In fact the only things he ever seemed to complain about were the worksmanship involved in the manufacture of modern motor cars, Australian drivers generally (and North Queensland ones specifically), and the poor performance of the English cricket team - oh yes, and Elton John.
So what can I say about a man like my father and his 72 years of life, half of which had passed before I was four years old. He survived a war and the Blitz; he raced motor cycles and stock cars; he re-built an old sail boat, even though he knew nothing about sailing; he built a caravan from a drawing he took from a 1950s edition of Popular Mechanics and, to the best of my knowledge never spent a night in it, although he pottered inside it building shelves and cabinets for at least three years. He was a demon on the maracas and he could play a set of spoons like George Gully. He loved cricket and was there whenever the Council Workshops challenged the Brewery or the Harbour Board, or anyone else for a social match, and in fact it was because of this, that my sister met her her lovely man Gordon when he was an Able Seaman on the HMS Crane - in town for a visit - and up for a cricket match. 
Since arriving in Australia, Dad's contribution (and that of my mother of course) has included seven grandchildren and a dozen great grandchildren - all of whom have become fine individuals and I believe have inherited their respect for others and the community.
We still miss you, Dad - thanks for all those wonderful memories.