If it was my Mum who introduced me to Jane Austen and the classics of English literature, together with a love of language (and thus Scrabble and cryptic crosswords), it was my Dad who introduced me to Australiana, starting in my youth with the verse (as the poet himself called it) of Banjo Paterson. The grandson of a Presbyterian minister, my father never swore, but he’d read with great gusto the lines ‘”Murder! Bloody murder!” cried the man from Ironbark’. And we kids loved it. As Dad’s eyes deteriorated in his last years, he gave up reading books, but the book he kept by his chair-side, and the book he was last seen dipping into, was a book of Paterson’s verse.
Born in 1920, and living through the heyday of Australia’s development in the twentieth century, Dad loved stories about Australian pioneers of all sorts, from the exploits of Charles Kingsford-Smith to those of cattle kings like the Duracks. Mary Durack’s Kings in grass castles was one of his favourites, at least from the time when I was old enough to be aware of his reading. In later years, he became more aware of the politics of Australia’s colonial settlement and appreciated our need to revise our understanding of frontier life, but I don’t think that ever completely removed his love of these ventures. Dad, of course, also lived through the Depression and Second World War, with the latter inspiring another major reading interest, the history of the War. (He didn’t read a lot of fiction, being of that generation of men who felt fiction wasn’t quite as worthwhile as non-fiction).
My other main memory of Dad and books comes from the days when, as a very little girl, I would go to my parents bedroom in the morning – much to my mum’s chagrin as she loved a sleep-in – with my “twenty-eight books”. It wasn’t 28 of course, but for some reason, that was the number I would say. One of those books featured Jiminy Cricket, and Dad would feign great fear as I shoved this terrifying creature under his nose! This became a lasting in-joke between us for the rest of his life.
Now, though, Dad has gone – peacefully, at the excellent age of 100 years and 8 months – and I am left with these memories, along with the enduring knowledge of a man who loved me very much, who never failed to support me and compliment me, and who set an example of integrity, honesty, acceptance, stoicism, and love of and responsibility for family. He, like all of us, had his moments, but his, like Mum’s, was a life well-lived, one that will continue through our memories and through the lives of all those who loved him.
Vale, Dad. Go well, and thanks.