The 15th anniversary

Last year I decided that rather than try to locate a photo to post I would share memories on Dad’s anniversary instead. I am aware that these will run out too, but in the meantime let’s just see what lane this takes us down.

Today is fifteen years since the accident that took Dad’s life. Fifteen years since Mum reminded me to return his call that night, a call I made only an hour before he died.

Dad phoned every night around 7pm. He did so unfailingly from the time he began working away when I was eleven. He and I were close but I will still admit to the occasional eye roll when the phone would ring in sync with the Home and Away theme song. Mum will also tell you Home and Away was the reason my state netball career was short-lived but I beg to differ. I just didn’t think I needed to go to training EVERY night.

I can vividly recall the brilliant sunrise as I drove to work on the coast road the next morning, completely unaware of the horrific scene that had played out the night before on the Newell Highway in NSW.

The next three days were to be spent in charge of a group of forty grade six students and I was on my way to meet them. It wouldn’t be until later that day, in the middle of organising a basketball game that I would notice my Uncle standing at the door to the stadium and wonder why on earth he was there.

He wouldn’t tell me, only that I needed to come outside. It was starting to get dark but I could see Mum standing on the pavement away from the entrance, I went over and looked into her eyes. I knew before she could get the words out.

Dad taught me to drive for the most part. He was great at it and we had fun. Until I went directly through an intersection on a country road having not noticed the sweeping left-hand bend I was meant to take. Both Mum and Dad have this irritating tendency to disguise their concern as anger, I do it too now but my disguise is frustration, just ask Mum. After that I seemed to have more lessons with RACT, with an odd man who had no sense of humour.

Dad let me drive the truck sitting on his knees when I was eleven. The truck was carting a fully laden trailer, it was dark and we were on a highway somewhere in Queensland. I guess I wasn’t really driving, just steering, but that was hard enough, trucks move about of their own accord if you're not careful.

Dad didn’t drive all over the country all year. There were nine days twice a year where Dad worked for Bicycle Victoria leading a team of drivers who held various responsibilities and together played a crucial role in the success of both the Great Victorian and the Great Tasmanian Bike Rides. Most of these men came to Dad's funeral and took part in a convoy of trucks that stretched as far as the eye could see. Dad was also responsible for hauling a big white semitrailer fitted out with a custom made industrial kitchen. I watched him reverse park it one day on site. Then, unsatisfied he went and found two blocks of wood and reversed the back two wheels of the trailer up on to these first go so it was perfectly level.

He loved these events, he was still on the move each day but with the distances being so much less he made the most of the time. When his job was done he would help someone else, he never stopped, not until everything was as it was meant to be. He was a leader, and a doer and his team followed his example.

Thinking it would be a good chance to spend more time with him and curious about the event I volunteered on the entertainment team for the GVBR in 2001. The event manager, seeing that I was studying Human Movement at University decided I would fill the role of aerobics instructor for 3000 riding participants. Dad thought this was hilarious. I was too busy watching instructor videos to partake in our usual banter.

Fast forward a couple of months and there I was waking each morning in a tent in a different Victorian town. Moments later I would be up on stage, mic fitted, attempting to motivate 3000 riders to quite literally, get on their bikes!

Except on one morning.

You see the towns we travelled through knew we coming and events; concerts for example, were planned to capitalise on the influx of potential patronage. On this night the Painters and Dockers were playing at a nearby pub. I had no idea who they were. They seemed quite old and it was the quite old that were most excited about going. All the crews went along and everyone, young and old and had a wonderful time.

It was about 3am when I returned and realised pretty much EVERYONE had either a green or silver tent. It took me another thirty minutes to find mine and by the time I was finally organised for bed it was near 4am. My alarm was set to go in an hours time. Or I thought it was.

The first I knew about having slept-in was via the GVBR radio. This was broadcast across the camping ground (football field) through loudspeakers installed on light poles, one of which happened to be positioned directly above my tent.

“GOOOOOOD MORNING RIDERS!!! WELLLLL BRIDGET IS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN THIS MORNING!!! I THINK SHE WAS ON STAGE WITH THE BAND LAST NIGHT AND IT’S A BIT EARLY FOR HER TO MAKE IT OVER TO OURS!”

I opened my eyes and slunk off to the shower, grinning sheepishly at everyone’s knowing smiles along the way. Dad, due to the time of day was always hard at work while I was instructing, he could hear me but not see me. Except on the last day. My leader went to get him so he could see me on stage accepting my punishment for that sleep-in.

It seemed the votes were in, I was to take the final class in a full duck costume.

Think Donald Duck. I had a massive head, similar in size to your average television. The eyes were black mesh so vision was instantly reduced by 70%. I couldn’t see my feet because of the huge duck belly which was bigger than the duck head. I also had a huge duck bootie. And, I had big webbed feet and blue stockings and a blue bib. There was no routine that was going to work so I made everyone do the nut-bush. I only fell over once.

Fortunately I couldn’t see Dad. Unfortunately, he could see me, and he had a camera.

Dad taught me to play the didgeridoo. Pretty much the same day he taught himself. He’d brought me home a didgeridoo, one he’d had made. Where exactly I have forgotten, but the authenticity card that came with it is in my big wooden trunk of Dad memories. He’d made himself a cup of tea on this day and had it sat on the coffee table by the couch while he nailed a tune. He was really good. Then it was my turn, just as I picked it up he reached for his tea and took a sip, he spilt it all down the front of himself - his lips had gone numb! I roared laughing!

After having so much fun on the GVBR I volunteered on the Great Tasmanian Bike Ride to work in the coffee van, I'm just not sure I realised they would be 15+ hour days. Not one coffee in nine days but plenty of energy drinks which these days I wouldn't touch. I travelled with Dad in the truck this time between towns instead of on one of the crew buses. This was great because I could go to sleep in the bunk.

The location of the official start on this particular year was Bridport and we had arrived a day before the riders. Unbeknown to me Dad had rigged up a speaker system on the OUTSIDE of the truck. When we pulled in the Ballarat Party Hire boys were hard at work on the marque structures, the Bicycle Victoria team were running about co-ordinating site setup and other volunteers including three of my good mates who’d come along this year were floating about lending a hand. Next minute they’re all looking in the direction of Dad’s truck as Sweet Home Alabama suddenly blasts from his new speakers. People sang along, others laughed, but everyone smiled and waved. They all loved Dad.

I loved him too, but I also loved one of the Ballarat Party Hire boys. There was one day when I was meant to be serving coffee but I could see Paul from the coffee van swinging a mallet to drive star pickets into the ground with his shirt off. I totally forgot where I was for a moment.

“Oh, sorry what? How do you have your coffee?”

He ended up helping me find my green tent in another sea of green and grey tents on a night spent in Richmond. Dad liked Paul. Lucky.

Dad always made sure he was home for Christmas and my birthday. Except one Christmas, well he was home but spent the Christmas day at Nan and Pops going between bed and the bathroom. He’d had a bad meal the night before and gotten food poisoning. One birthday I spent away with him on the GVBR. He and Mum had arranged a cake to be made and while I was lined up with Dad and what seemed like the population of a small country for dinner, Maz the chef brought out my birthday cake and everyone sang. I was highly embarrassed and didn’t know where to look but stoked on the inside. You can see the line for yourself in the photo.

I used to make Dad cards, for the usual occasions, sometimes for no occasion at all. This particular card I made was for Easter. Behind our house is nine acres of paddock. I was very familiar with this land. Mum and Dad used to drop me a the top of the hill on the way back from town and I would run down the paddock as fast as I could while they drove around the road, we did this to see who got home first. It wasn’t an easy run as there were lots of left over potatoes, rocks, roots and other obstacles to avoid but it was fun! Anyway at this time of year there were these lovely looking flowers growing in that paddock.

I’d found some yellow cardboard, folded it and drawn a big egg on the front. I knew that these flowers had seeds in them so I went up to the paddock and returned with enough seeds to execute what I had planned. I divided the seeds into three containers and then poured in three different food dye colours. They dried while I put glue on the egg I’d drawn. Then I poured the seeds onto the egg in different sections. They stuck nicely. I can still remember the look on Dad’s face when I told him where I’d gotten the seeds from.

“From those nice flowers in the paddock.”

Love you Dad, thinking of you today. xx


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