My dad is celebrating his birthday. No great ‘landmark’ birthday ending in a zero or a five, but he reckons any year after 70 is worth applauding. My father is, I think, a classical Australian country man. The red earth of the property he was born flows in his veins, and will forever more. The saying “You can take the man out of the country but you will never take the country of out the man” springs to mind when I think about my dad.
I recently found a photo album I put together for my father’s 50th birthday celebrations, complete with a bio of his life. It is hand written – there were few word processors and printers 27 years ago.
The opening paragraph reads:
Clem and Ellie gave birth to their third child and first son on this day in 1938. They still wonder whether the turmoil that began to develop at this time (resulting in World War 2 in 1939) was just a coincidence or whether indeed the world was not quite ready for such a man.
Powerful words I wrote back then, and I still stand by these many years later. But I might be a little one-eyed.
As he grew up with his sisters and brothers on their property he developed an everlasting connection with the land. After being schooled at a city boarding school he then attended Teachers College and embarked on a long career as a high school teacher, teaching Agriculture and Science.
I asked my dad this evening – why teaching? His answer – his father had told them to get a job where you didnt have to always look at the clouds. That advice and a scholarship took my father to teaching. No matter his posting across the state, he travelled often to Bellevue to work side by side with his father and recharge his connections.
At his first teaching post he met my mum. Arriving in Corowa in the late ‘50s as a ‘young, handsome, single’ man he was quite popular and was invited to many social events in the small town. I didn’t realise how handsome he was until one of my daughters perusing old photos innocently asked who the good looking guy with Gran was. My mum knew how handsome and somehow won his heart.
The offer to invest in a horse and trotter the night before his wedding wasn’t even enough to sway this young love. Over 52 years, three children and eight grandchildren later this match made on the border of Victoria and New South Wales is still a major constant in our lives.
I have wonderful memories of my dad, my childhood, my family. His only daughter, he still calls me “Bub” and the only person that can get away with it! My memories are sprinkled with weekend journeys to visit my grandparents as dad had a yearning to bond with his roots and the soil of Bellevue. Taking picnics on a Sunday to go wood chopping or sheep work such as times described in Shut the gate one last time fill my memory – my father a large figure in so many of these glimpses of the past.
We all helped dad on our own small farm as we were growing up. We kept pigs and chooks, as well as a smattering of sheep, milking cows, ducks, a menagerie of dogs, cats and even a pet sheep named “Walter” at one stage. With a sheep that thought it was a dog and a chook that raised ducklings and became upset when they went swimming in the pond our lives were full of many crazy times.
As a teacher and a lover of all sports (except Rugby Union, don’t get him started on that game!) he left long lasting impressions with his many students. He had an affinity to connect and to encourage students –sometimes finding himself in the principal’s office as his techniques were a little innovative for the time and pushed the boundary of then traditional methods. He was an early leader in teaching slow learners, developing one of the first slow learner teaching programs in NSW.
Through agriculture, students who may not have been high academic achievers found an interest and a subject they could excel which paid off for many in years to come. No matter where we go, even to this day former students pop up ‘out of the woodwork’ and tell my father that he was the reason they stayed in school or attribute his teaching to their career successes. That is some achievement for this daughter to be proud of.
So how does my dad fill his days now he is retired? My mum jokes about this – a farmer never retires. My parents live on a small acreage close by – enough for dad to still drive his tractor and work the land, grow a crop or two and keep some sheep.
He may need to call on help a bit more often than in the past but he still has his trusty dog beside him, the wire at the ready to fix anything and everything, the dust in his brow and his workboots on.
Happy birthday dad – Mr T – DT.