I have a letter from dad, written back in 2003, that says: "Often I look around my trees and the sunset and say to myself 'how could I ever leave?'"
(dad's little house)
Old Toolamba was dad's home, always. As an adult he lived in other places as his work demanded but he always came back here for a month every summer, and as soon as he could he retired here permanently. He loved everything about it; the river, the trees, his family, his childhood memories. I don't think he was ever really happy anywhere else.
(the Goulburn river in dad's backyard)
Dad was always the fun parent. When I was very little dad would mow mazes in the back lawn so my brothers and I could run around in them. When we were a bit older and my parents were divorced, dad would take us out every second weekend to do fun things. Horse-riding was generally my choice, trail-bike riding was Darren's. Dad wouldn't ride but he would take long walks around the area while we tried not to fall off whatever we were riding.
Later dad bought us the Odyssey, a dune buggy; and then the Swordfish, a jet-ski bike. He was the one to organise all the paddock cricket where his tree farm is now, or treasure hunts down Cemetery Bend, following the clues. His idea of fun always seemed to include family. Dinner at a Chinese restaurant or an evening playing cards were all he asked for socially.
(my children playing paddock cricket with newly-discovered second-cousins)
He taught me to play cards early. 500 was the favourite, but we also played Hearts and ABC Poker. I spent many an evening playing cards with dad and Uncle Glenn and Aunty Helen. He also tried to teach me to play chess but I didn't enjoy that as much, even when he gave me a Queen head start. He would beat me every time no matter how many of his pieces he took off the board at the start. I could hold my own with 500.
Of course during the long hot summers he would take us to the sand-beds on the river. Growing up, that is what I thought a beach was. Mainly we went around to the Big Sand-bed, or sometimes just swam off the log down the back here. Dad taught me to swim here. He was always involved in any activity and organised inner-tube flotillas down the river, having as much fun as anyone and more than most.
He didn't take well to technology. When he moved back to Old Toolamba, he didn't have a phone of any kind for a long time. Only when his health demanded it did he buy a mobile phone so that he wouldn't be completely isolated. He had a TV for watching sport, but never owned a computer. If he wanted any information, like the starting time of the Stawell Gift, he would ring me in Canberra and ask me to look it up for him. He also asked me to join him up for a computer dating site on my computer, but I explained that it wouldn't be so practical for him to review the women and check all his hits with me and my computer so far away. He ended up sticking to advertising in local papers, and had no trouble getting plenty of dates.Dad always bought his cars new. He said it didn't matter that a new car lost value as soon as you drove it away from the showroom, because he didn't intend to resell. He would drive it carefully and it would last at least ten years, even with the long trips between Toolamba and Sydney. He taught me to drive like I and my passengers were VIPs, very important people who you would never take risks about, and leave 2 seconds between me and the car in front.
I have two memories related to cars and dad. Dad taught me to drive, and I learned by sitting on his lap when I was too little to reach the pedals and steering as we drove around the streets of Beecroft. They wouldn't allow that nowadays! Then when I was a teenager I had full control of the car driving around the paddocks at Toolamba but dad forgot to tell me I needed to use the clutch when stopping. I had changing gears down fine but every stop was a serious of bunny hops until I worked it out for myself!The other memory is that every time we arrived at Toolamba, dad would cut the engine at around the turn-off to the town and try to roll the rest of the way without power. He won the game if he could glide up into Nana's front yard and stop without having to use accelerator or brake. I think he managed it occasionally.
To nieces and nephews, he was "Uncle Carbuncle". To my children, he was "Grandad Stories". He made up weird and wonderful tales like "The Naughtiest Child Competition", starring a girl called Jasmine (but not this Jasmine!) and a boy called Aiden (but not this Aiden!). Or sometimes it was a boy called Jasmine and a girl called Aiden.He visited every school holidays except winter. I had to ban him from the house in winter, or rather I said he was welcome to come but he wasn't allowed to open the windows. His mania for fresh air when it was below zero outside was too much for me. But every other holidays he would visit for a few days and we would go to Canberra's flower festival Floriade or on a boat tour of the lake or to a lookout on top of one of the mountains. Always outdoors as much as possible, seeing nature.
As far as I am aware dad never went overseas to explore the world, and despite having been in the air force he never seemed to fly anywhere. He was perfectly happy driving from place to place within Australia, staying in cheap motels and enjoying the beauties of his own country.Back at home, I encouraged him to have a proper garden and once gave him a lemon tree, which quickly died. But he preferred planting and nurturing his forest of gum trees. Each one is named after a family member, everyone has their own tree. We would go on trips down Cemetery Bend to find new seedlings of as many varieties of eucalypt as possible. He would always choose seedlings that wouldn't survive if left where they were, like in a dry billabong that would fill up in the rainy season.
(the paddock beside dad's house, with his gum trees)
He designed and built this house himself, with some professional help, surrounded by all his trees and next to his beloved river. Old Toolamba is where he will stay.
(the coffin, at Old Toolamba cemetery)