59 Laps and Counting

So, the 14th of December 2018 marks the milestone signifying that I have now officially completed 59 laps around the sun, and that I have (without flinching) commenced lap 60. It seems easy when you say it like that but it’s been a really long time; it has been, well, all of my life so far. So many tales, trials and intersections that are there to be reflected on, not to mention the number of people who for better of for worse have had significant impact on shaping the person that I am. What better time than a birthday to do the reflecting. I may be a little odd in this regard but in my later years I find myself doing this kind of reflecting on such occasions.

I guess I just wanted to write something here that highlighted this particular marker in the sand, and it has caused me to spend some time thinking about my parents. It came about because I was thinking on what the day/time of my birth might have been like for them. They have both now shuffled off this mortal coil as the famous writer once put it. Any reflecting must be done without their contemporary input. Probably what’s at the heart of it all is to acknowledge that I still miss my folks. I said to my son Luke the other day, that I think I miss my dad more than when he died because I never got to have the kind of adult friendship that he & I enjoy. Also, I think that as the years roll on by, I find myself intrigued and somewhat in awe of the pioneering spirit that fuelled my parents post war journey to Australia.

Here is a synopsis of sorts. I am the youngest of 6 children. Mum and Dad were post war immigrants who came here somewhat independent of one another. Romance & marriage happened only after arrival in the new land. Dad was a 10 pound Pom; mum apparently paid her own way, hoping to leave herself free to return to Scotland when she tired of Australia. From what I’ve been told, I don’t think that either of them planned to settle here permanently; over 60 years since they arrived, they are both at rest in the Springvale cemetery, just a few short kilometres from where I did most of my growing up. My oldest brother was the first to arrive defining the new clan; 11 months after Pat arrived, the twins were born. Yes, mum had 3 children under the age of 1. Then followed my 2 sisters and finally, little old me. Even thought most of my school years were spent living in Springvale, my birthplace of Yallourn and early homes in Moe & Drouin South, are still defined in my mind as having significant impact on the shape of things to come. 

We eventually moved from Drouin South to a tiny shack for a short time, then Jells road, both houses in Glen Waverley. From there it was just a short hop on to Springvale. The Jells road house stands as a vivid image of two different times. If you drive along there now it’s all relatively new houses with manicured lawns and buzzing shops. When we were there it was mostly farm land that had a very rural aspect to it all. The football ground formally known as Waverley Park hadn’t even been commissioned yet. Through all of these years, mum and dad worked to raise 6 children, send them to private schools, and build a life from scratch, mostly cut off from family in their native Scotland. In this contemporary era, I am in contact with various Scottish cousins most every day through e-mail text and the ubiquitous facebook. In my parents day its was the blue aerograms that they used to at the very least, stay in touch and communicate important news. Living at Jells road imprinted on me a memory that highlights the isolation that they found themselves in in this new land. One sad day, my father received a telegram from Scotland. My sister Helen tells me that all it said was “Mother Dead”. Dad was never one given to overt emotional responses to life. My strong memory of this day however, is one of Dad spending a great deal of time just pacing around what was a rather expansive front yard; silent, slightly bent, full of sorrow. I remember walking up to him at one point with all of the genuine concern that a 6 year could muster. He looked at me and very gently stroked my hair (yes I had some then) but kept walking. Isolation, torn between two continents, sorrow. 

I was never privy to any discussions that mum and dad had about staying in Australia or going back to Scotland. I witnessed them do their lives here, telling us stories about the family & life that we had overseas; I personally witnessed my father wrap a tartan blanket around his waist, put a tartan tea cosy on his head and dance a highland jig; I watched them return from infrequent visits to Scotland, arriving back in Aus wondering which brothers and sisters they left behind would be gone next time they went back. No matter the isolation, the beautiful irony was that there was always a connection. We were Australian, but we were Scottish and proud. As the years flew on by, so did the growing awakening to the notion that my parents were indeed pioneers, and that this pioneering life came at a cost.

I will probably spend the rest of my life tying to understand the magnitude of that cost. I did have what I thought was an epiphany flying from Milan in Italy to Edinburgh for my first ever visit. I was glued to the view from the window as we flew over the white cliffs into the UK. In that moment, I had a profound sense of the journey that they had undertaken to travel to Australia. We had done it in a plane, and it felt like forever away. Like travellers from another era, they had boarded a boat, said farewell to people they loved, some of whom they would never see again, and set off for Australia. We were in Scotland for a few weeks; separated from our Aussie clan who to us were an eternity away, even though we were permanently attached via modern electronic means. What it took for them to move, settle and build a new life is courage from another era that I deeply admire even if I don’t quite understand it yet. Maybe I never will.

All of “these” words aside, I do like to think of myself as a songwriter. Inspired by my epiphany, I put pen to paper and tried to record the impression of all of these feelings & observations. It was never meant to be a eulogy, but dad had long passed when I wrote it, & mum passed before I could muster up the courage to sing it to her. We made a plan to stand with members of our musical clan, and sing it at mums funeral. Somewhat fortunately, the minister forgot that we were planning to sing it and skipped it in the order of service. I say fortunately because the emotional depth of the song probably meant that none of us would have been able to sing such a story; let’s face it, we barely made it through the rehearsal. The plan that followed was a beauty and somewhat more appropriate. 

Some weeks after the funeral, the clan gathered in our Warburton lounge room. Brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews and our own children. We spent a glorious day, singing, telling stories and in our own fashion, celebrating the memory of our pioneering Matriarch and patriarch. The recording that you have here was the outcome of this gathering. It is the best I can muster up to somehow cerebrally and emotionally celebrate the influence that my parents have had on my 59 laps. At the start of lap 60, my wife has suggested that we do something special to celebrate completing 60. Perhaps we should take a cue from my dad and dress up in tartan blankets, wearing tartan tea cosy’s and spend a night dancing some highland reels?

Now that sounds like a plan

For the record…

Drums, Luke McIvor, Bass, Steve Peters, Guitars, me, Accordion, Sarah Rose, Violin, the incomparable Rachel Hook, soloists, Cam, Pat and Julz, Duet at start, the beautiful voices belonging to Bek and Kathleen, live engineering by Ben & Damon