At the end of this post is a personal video tribute to my father. It precedes the public tribute to come soon.
There are no words I can find that will ever be adequate to convey how much I and the rest of my family loved my father. So, while “unhappy that I am,” that “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth,” to mangle Shakespeare a bit, I’ve made this photo tribute in an attempt to convey the sentiment that mere words cannot.
The lyrics to the accompanying song reflect very well what an incredibly loving and devoted husband and father my Dad was, and how we felt about him, and how we still feel about him.
None of us was ever in any doubt at any point in our lives with him that we were loved unreservedly. This is probably the greatest gift my Dad gave to us, and there were many. Most importantly, he always encouraged us to reach the greatest heights possible, and he always told us we could reach for the stars and get there. We believed him.
Life was very tough, yes, but the constant factor throughout it all was his love and devotion to us all. He expressed this in so many ways that it’s impossible to recount them all.
But his love and devotion weren’t just communicated just through the thousands of ways he showed his adoration for us directly – the attention he gave us, the way he told us we could do anything we set our minds to doing, the way he taught us everything he knew, the way he helped us through dark times (even saving our lives on occasion), and the way he fought for us when we needed him. His love and devotion were also manifested through his political activism.
When my father fought the various political battles he did, it was for the betterment of society, yes. It was also very often a matter of personal survival that prompted him to fight. But it was also always with a view towards the family he planned to have, and then the family he had, and then finally the family that would exist many generations after he was gone.
Sometimes, I have to admit, it was hard to appreciate what he was doing. I remember when I was 13 or 14 being utterly mortified at my father’s public campaign to make seatbelts on school buses compulsory. I copped a lot of flak from the kids on the bus and at school when Dad came on TV talking about it, and I am ashamed to admit that, at the time, I wished he would stop, as I desired more than anything to be unnoticed. It was only later that I thanked him for caring enough about my safety to wage a campaign about the issue.
When he campaigned against the Vietnam war and conscription, it wasn’t just because he believed it morally wrong and because he wanted to prevent young men being sent unnecessarily to their deaths, it was because he wanted no son of his to ever have to go through what the young men of his generation went through.
When he went on a hunger strike when I was a baby, in Brisbane’s King George Square, it wasn’t just to protest against an uncaring government that was treating people on welfare appallingly, it was with a view to correcting a world that I would later inhabit as an adult.
When he campaigned against child abuse and to bring the Homes to the Australian public’s attention, it wasn’t just to achieve justice for himself and others, and it wasn’t just to try to make the world a better place for all children and survivors of child abuse – it was also to try to make things better for his daughters and his wife, all survivors, and to make sure that the world his grandchildren would enter was better than this one.
When he campaigned for justice and support for what we now call Forgotten Australians, it wasn’t just for them, it was with a view towards a future in which a horrible twist of fate might mean that one of his descendants might find themselves living through the crime against humanity that was the experiences he and hundreds of thousands of others lived through in the Homes.
The song’s line, “My world is a better place because of you,” is, I feel, true for me, and for our family, and for the children who will come after us.
But the lyrics to this song and the photos that accompany it also tell another story. And that is that of all the people who’ve supported my father personally and encouraged and inspired him throughout his periods of activism. And through the other times.
These people have cared for my father. They’ve fought for him. They’ve made sure he lived when he couldn’t find a reason to live. They’ve protected him. They’ve loved him and understood him, even when it was very hard because of his many disabilities and the effects they had on him and those who lived with him.
My father was often a pillar of strength for people, particularly for his children, but there were many, many, many times when the abuses he endured in the Homes meant that he was “weak” and sometimes even “couldn’t speak.”
The people I’m about to talk about helped my father through these times. I and others and who benefitted directly or indirectly from what my father did throughout his life, or from simply having him around, only got to have him and only got to see certain things change because of what all these people did to support him.
Put this way, then, you’ll hopefully also understand how the song playing throughout this tribute can be interpreted as a message of sorts from my father to all of the people who looked out for him, and did everything they could possibly do to compensate for all that was so cruelly taken from him.
My father’s experiences prevented him from functioning in many ways necessary for coping with many aspects of life, and oftentimes threatened his survival. If these people hadn’t done what they’d done, he may not have made it as far as he did. Although his years on this earth were far, far, far too few and far, far, far too often marred by extraordinary pain and despair, my siblings and I had a father who treasured us and made us believe we were valuable and worth something, even in our very darkest hours.
The following account of people who’ve supported and nurtured my father in immediate and deeply personal ways is not in order of importance; it’s in chronological order of birth.
I first want to thank my wise and loving Aunty, my Dad’s sister, for looking out for my father throughout her entire life, starting when she was a small child and she tried to stop the authorities separating them by literally clinging to her little baby brother and refusing to let go and having to be pulled away from him (in precisely the same way as the incident described by Malcolm Turnbull years later).
I love her not just because of the incredible person she is and how much love she’s given me and my family over my entire life, but for how valiantly she fought, even as a little girl, the horrible system that took her beloved little brother away from her for so long.
I also cherish her for being the strongest person in the household when my father and she were teenagers after my father was released from Alkira and for attending to most of the practical matters of life in their incredibly difficult circumstances in a way that meant that my father could concentrate on his studies and win a scholarship to university.
She checked up on and fretted about my father all the time he was alive, and he knew how much she loved him and that carried him through at vital times in his life. I know she feels she could have done more (we all do), but she couldn’t have, and I hope she understands that if my father still suffered, it’s just because the burdens he (and indeed she) carried were too much for any person to carry. I can say without hesitation that no sister showed as much love and devotion to a brother as she did.
I next want to thank my mother. Without her years of support, starting from when she first met my father back in 1969, none of my father’s political achievements would have occurred. There were several times he would most likely have died earlier than he did if she hadn’t stood by him. For years, she was the quintessential embodiment of the saying, “Behind every great man, there is a great woman.”
Her dedication to my father meant incredible personal sacrifices, to her career, her health, and to her hopes for the secure future that was really her birthright.
For years, she fought for my father against systems that had no idea what had happened to him and didn’t care to know – she made them listen as much as he ever did. She was truly his voice when he couldn’t speak for the pain of his life and when he was immobilised by despair and hopelessness. She was able to articulate his needs to others in the earliest times when he was too proud or too ashamed to speak explicitly of his anguish and despair or of what had happened to him.
Because she chose to support my father and accompany him for as long as she did, my mother lived a life of drudgery and became careworn and, like him, aged too quickly. She should be acknowledged for all that she did, and I do acknowledge it, as others have.
I also wish to acknowledge the years my little brother spent directly caring for my father after my parents separated. While he gained as much as he gave, it wasn’t always easy, to put it mildly, and I am grateful for what he did and for making the effort at such a very young age to try to understand my father and the way he was and not to judge him harshly for it. While he was caring for my father, I was off pursuing a career in an effort to be the family ‘champion’ and rescue us all from poverty, and I could only have done that for the time I was able to do it (until I burned out) because he was looking after my father, and I didn’t have to worry about quite as much as I usually did. I’ll never forget that.
I’m also grateful for all the occasions my brother made it possible for my father to spend delightful times with his adorable grandchild, for whom he had great plans as to how he was going to contribute to his life and pass on the benefits of his accumulated life experience and education. I believe this sweet little baby boy was uppermost in my father’s mind when he was writing his blog every day, and that this helped prompt him to work as hard as he did because he was damned if this baby was going to have to grow up in a world my father still believed was not even close to properly protecting children from harm.
Finally, I want to thank my little sister. She doesn’t yet fully understand what she gave to my father, but I do. Firstly, her frankness in speaking about her own appalling traumas and her years of work with therapists in which she endeavoured to come to terms with what she endured left her able and willing to articulate extremely clearly a number of things that even my eloquent, intelligent, and well-read father learned and benefitted from hearing.
More importantly, however, she has always stood in her truth, right from when she could first speak. Her courage and uncompromising moral stance on a number of issues inspired and motivated my father. Sometimes they clashed ferociously on points of contention, as is natural when two highly intelligent and passionate people come head to head (particularly when one of them is a teenager!), but he always ended up deciding she was right, and he marvelled at her integrity and intelligence, and was humbled by it.
She’s forgotten this now, but there’s a very funny story that I can tell that demonstrates how my father benefitted from his youngest and probably most intelligent child. When she was about 10 or 11, my father kept a few hens in his shed for collecting eggs. My sister had converted to strict vegetarianism at the age of 8, and was a strident child activist for the rights of animals from that point onwards. Her position was that no animal should be cooped up, even in a (reasonably) ‘free range’ environment. Anyway, when she visited my father up at Benarkin one day and saw that he was keeping hens in the shed, outraged, she went out in the yard, wrapped herself in barbed wire, stood in the blazing sun, and refused to come inside until my father agreed to release all the hens from the shed.
I wish I’d been there, but I’ve seen enough instances of her incredible bravery and uncompromising stance on issues important to her to make up for not being there that day! Whenever my father recounted the story to anyone, he’d laugh fit to burst because it really was funny, but then he’d always become serious, and say how incredibly proud of her he was for her fearlessness and her refusal to compromise in the face of what she believed to be wrong.
He relented and released the hens not simply because he was worried about her getting heat stroke, but because after a couple of hours of heated ‘negotiations’, he came to the realisation that her arguments were, in fact, unassailable! There are many more stories I could tell about how her bravery and integrity inspired and impressed my father, but this one probably gets the message across best.
In short, my father was always courageous and uncompromising in his moral stance on a number of matters, but my sister inspired him to become even more courageous and even more uncompromising in the face of everything that is wrong with our society. One day, I hope she’ll understand this.
I also want to mention that my idea for Dad to blog on the Royal Commission wasn’t original. It was inspired by my sister’s work years before he began writing his blog, in which she too blogged, under a pseudonym, about child sexual abuse. Her desire at the time was to help others heal from what she’d learned from her own tragic experiences, and I have no doubt that she did help others. As well as being a recently ‘graduated’ Reiki Master and an accomplished artist, she is a gifted writer and poetess, and I hope that one day she’ll return to writing, in her own time, and in her own way, because her words will be every bit as loud and compelling as anything my father ever wrote.
We miss you so much, Daddy, but we’re also proud of you, and so very grateful for everything you did for us. If this pain ever does start to recede, we’ll have the pride and gratitude we feel left to us, along with all the wisdom you imparted to us, and nothing will ever take that away.
Anyway, that’s about it for now. Not long now until the public memorial film will be up on the website. I’ll post as soon as it’s up.
Thanks for reading. And thanks to Todd from Audio Visual Artists for making this film.
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