Nomad no more

I’ve written briefly about my Uncle Dick once before, in the course of a rather sentimental piece about my family.  This is another in similar vein.

Most of my memories of Dick revolve around motor vehicles.  When I was a small boy, before my mum and dad bought their first car when I was 8 years old, Dick would sometimes drive our family up to my grandmother’s holiday shack at Empire Bay near Woy Woy.  We’d all pile into Dick’s old faded red Oldsmobile complete with running boards, sedately negotiating the winding road through the Hawkesbury River valley, and stopping frequently so my chronically carsick sister Lynne could vomit out the door.  Languid long weekends of fishing and yabbying (both of which I detested) would follow.

Dick’s manner in those days was gruff and imperious, even with his younger brother (my dad).  When  I was about 13, he gave me an early lesson in adult hypocrisy. My mum and dad had just replaced their first car, an old black Standard Vanguard, with a brand new Holden station wagon.  Dad had opted for a 186 cubic inch motor in place of the bottom-of-the-range 149 (this was just before the days of the ubiquitous 202), and Dick lost no time in lecturing his younger brother about his folly: “You want to be careful about this mania forengine power, Cecil. It’s just a waste of money and fuel. You mark my words. ” Not long afterwards, Dick was proudly driving a brand new Falcon V8, the first time Ford had ever offered a V8 engine option locally.  No-one was game to ask him about its fuel consumption.

By the time I finished high school and started at Sydney Uni Law School, Dick had risen to an exalted public service position as an executive in charge of Sydney’s government bus fleet.  He got me a uni vacation job as a bus conductor working out of Waverley depot in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.  “Fares please”; “step to the back of the bus”; “No madam, this service is express to Rose Bay”.  It was a good job and well paid compared with bar work or taxi-driving. The rotating and split shifts were a bit rough though.  I would go to my Nana and Grandad’s place at nearby Bondi to sleep between the two halves of split shifts, failing to notice that Nana even then was in the early stages of the Alzheimer’s Disease that would soon drive her into a nursing home. They abolished bus conductors completely in favour of one man buses not long after that, but by then I’d scored an even better vacation job as a beach inspector at Collaroy.

By the time I moved to Darwin in the early 80s, Dick had retired and enthusiastically taken up Grey Nomading, along with his loyal and long-suffering wife Gwen, who was noticeably less keen about caravanning around Australia each winter.  Every 3 years or so, Dick and Gwen would arrive at our home in suburban Darwin in their gleaming Mitsubishi Pajero, towing a top-of-the range Millard caravan.  Dick assiduously refused ever to take the Pajero off-road though, for fear of damaging it, so they never saw much of the real Territory.  He would lovingly wash and polish it each evening, after a stately day’s driving up the Stuart Highway during which he would keep in touch with other anally retentive Grey Nomads by CB radio. 

On one occasion after my own father’s retirement, my parents went with Dick and Gwen on one of these odysseys, towing their own tiny pop-top van they’d bought through the Trading Post.  The trip didn’t go well, and the relationship between Dick and my father was a bit strained for a couple of years after that.

Gwen was a bad asthmatic, which may have been one of the reasons why she never looked like she was enjoying the life of a Grey Nomad very much. The asthma ended up killing her more than a decade ago now. Dick sold the Pajero and the Millard van, settling down in solitary widowerhood in their waterfront apartment at Drummoyne near the Gladesville Bridge. 

About 5 years ago Dick moved into Dee Why Gardens retirement village on the northern beaches not far from my mum and dad (and close to his daughter Jan who lives at Balgowlah).  My mum and dad also sold their house and moved to Dee Why Gardens last year.  By that time Dick’s kidneys had packed up and he was noticeably suffering from Alzheimer’sdementia himself.  About 3 months ago it became apparent that he could no longer care for himself at Dee Why Gardens, even with lots of home nursing support.  Jan and Bill found him a spot at Manly Waters Nursing Home.  But his dementia had reached the wandering stage, and Manly Waters wasn’t secure.  A couple of weeks ago he went missing, until a nearby family found him on their front veranda distractedly ringing their windchimes and clad only in a pyjama bottom. Dick was moved to a more secure geriatric ward at Manly Hospital.  He died there yesterday, Anzac Day morning, aged 88. 

I’m thinking about flying down for the funeral early next week. If any Sydney bloggers are interested in a low key dinner (as opposed to a fullblown “grogblogging” function), get in touch. 

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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C.L.
14 years ago

Wonderful human story about an everyday bloke, Ken.

My condolences and best wishes.

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

There was nothing the least bit sentimental about this, or the earlier one for that matter. Just well composed historical snapshots. I suspect it’s just a shock to find yourself recounting events that happened half a century go – you thought that was something old people did.

skepticlawyer
14 years ago

Ken, my condolences. I’ll amend my Missing Link post to include this – no wonder you weren’t up to editing today!

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saint
saint
14 years ago

Sorry for your loss Ken.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
14 years ago

My condolences Ken,

I remember the 186 and the 149 badges on those Holdens.

SJ
SJ
14 years ago

A well told story, Ken. Brings back all sorts of memories.

My older brother, now deceased, bought a new HK Monaro with the 186-S motor. I got up him for not buying the 327 V8. His defence was that he got the 186-S, not just the 186. At the time, he would have been 18 or 19, and I was 6. Obviously I had no idea what any of those numbers and letters meant back then.

Losing a family member is always hard. My condolences.

Gianna
14 years ago

Sad to hear it Ken. A lovely post.