Monday, April 18, 2022

60 in 60 #32 Busselton Pt 2

 60 in 60 #32 Busselton Part 2.

I am reflecting on the last 60 years, and writing 60 blog posts. 30 about people and 30 about events, places, experiences and entities.

 

Busselton was a great place to live, work and raise our family. It’s quiet, pretty, near the beach, near the bush and not too far away from Perth which enabled me to go up to the city fairly often and stay in touch with my mates and the footy.

Is there an Airport Shuttle Bus from Busselton? - Airport Shuttle Perth

 

Sophie Jordan and Paul all went to Cornerstone College where Graeme Cross was Principal and Stu Robinson was the Bursar. Paul started playing soccer for Cornerstone on a Saturday morning and within a couple of seasons I was coaching his team. I coached the same core group of kids for the next several seasons as they played against local teams from Capel, Margaret River, Dunsborough and Busso. Jordy played for the older team for a few seasons as well but it was Paulie who had the most talent. He always loved playing sports of all kinds and was naturally good at most things. In his last couple of years in Busso he played for the Leeuwin-Geographe rep team at Country Week up in Perth.

 

Meanwhile, Cornerstone got better each year as the kids matured and learned to play as a team and employ the tactics and skills I was teaching them. Coaching was fun most of the time but early games on a Saturday morning could be challenging because I had taken on a second job, driving taxis on a Friday and Saturday night. 



I’ve always been a night owl, and I enjoy driving so with that skill set, driving cabs suited me pretty well and brought in some handy extra dollars. The regular pick-up points were the Nade (Esplanade Hotel), the Ship Hotel and the wine bar in the main street. I’d pick passengers up from all over the district and bring them into town sober, then collect them and take them home drunk late at night. The pubs shut at 1.00am and the rush hour usually lasted a couple of hours. Regular fares to and from Dunsborough were profitable, occasional fares to Margaret River or Bunbury were lucrative and one time, a fare to Perth cost the passenger $330 and toward the end of the trip he was trying to convince me he was Jesus! 

Most passengers were good most of the time but every now and then they got under my skin, or were abusive, or did a runner. I saw plenty of strange things on the long nights in the cab and drank plenty of Vanilla Diet Cokes to keep me going. It was not uncommon to get a fare that just wanted to go out to the “24 houry” servo for a feed of greasy junk food after a night on the grog, or to be taken through Maccas drive-through when it came to town because they wouldn’t serve walk through customers. It was not uncommon to pick up kids I knew from work and teachers too. Nick and Kerry Fucile were frequent customers.

 

Busselton Taxis


So after a late night behind the wheel, it was quite an effort to drag myself out of bed to go and coach the kids but I’m glad I did. They were full of energy and enthusiasm and Paul along with 3-4 others were very good players. The highlight came in my last game in charge prior to our move to Victoria. We had made it to the Grand Final against Busselton United to be played at Margaret River on a Saturday morning. My niece Aimee was to be married in Perth in the afternoon! Cornerstone were the underdogs but the kids played out of their skins and thanks to a brilliant free kick goal from Ben Cross we won the game 1-0 and the Cup. I barely had time to hug and high five the kids and parents before jumping in the car and heading for the wedding, making it with minutes to spare.




Nick was responsible for a brief revival in my own sporting career when he invited me to join the Busselton Masters footy team, footy for old blokes. They were a great bunch of blokes and it was fun but as I told Carolyn, I had enough energy to chase after the ball, or to bend down and pick it up, but not both! I played about 20 games all up over the 6 years and even picked up a medal for being in the best players at one of the carnivals in Perth but it was obvious to me, and anyone who was watching, that my best football was a long long way behind me. I also played volleyball all the time we were in Busso, sometimes with kids from the high school as they prepared for Country Week but most of the time with mates. We played A Grade which was very competitive, they take their volleyball very seriously in Busselton. We were 2 sets up in a preliminary final in one season when I came down from a block and landed on an opponent’s foot across the net from me badly twisting my ankle and necessitating a trip to hospital in an ambulance. Not only did it signal the end of my volleyball career, the team went on to lose the prelim 3-2 in my absence!! I was the referees coordinator for 3-4 years as well.

 

Sport in Aussie country towns brings communities together and it provided me with opportunities to establish my role at the school as well. As mentioned in the last chapter I coached the footy team in interschool competition although without the success I’d experienced at Carine. Each year schools from all over regional Western Australia send teams of upper school students to Perth to compete at Country Week in all sorts of sports, from footy and soccer to netball and dance. I went as soccer coach the first year and volleyball coach the next before taking on a much bigger role as Country Week Manager. I had watched a teacher do it the previous year and felt frustrated and annoyed as she continually berated the kids in the lead-up, hassling them about forms and fees and always seeming to come from a place of anger and harshness. I asked the Principal if I could take on the job and she happily consented. I’d like to think I brought a kinder gentler spirit to the job. The team grew to over 100 kids and a dozen staff so there was a lot to organise but it all went off pretty smoothly. John Duthie, head of PE was a great ally and Nick brought character and humour to his coaching of the girls hockey “Nick’s Chicks with Sticks”. One year the bloke who normally arranged our lunch catering wasn’t available so I employed Sophie to do the food and after a shaky first day she quickly got it sussed and did a great job feeding the masses. I rejigged the evening programs to cut down on unnecessary bus travel by utilising venues in the city for the Country Week dinner and a night out at the movies. I spent each day in the car visiting all the different sports venues, dropping off lunches, taking injured kids to hospital and dealing with stuff that needed doing. I loved it and continued in the role of Country Week Manager even after I left the chaplaincy.

 




In 2006 the Commonwealth Games were held in Melbourne. Having had such a brilliant experience at the Sydney Olympics with the kids in 2000 I was very keen to take the younger two, Jordan and Paul to Melbourne. I just needed an excuse. Then it hit me, organise a school trip and take a bunch of kids from Busselton! Brilliant! Thankfully Raelene, the Principal didn’t object and cautiously supported my plan. I think she secretly doubted I could pull it off given the short time frame but I’m always up for a challenge and promptly put out a notice calling for kids who were interested, to come to a meeting at lunchtime a couple of days later. I had put together a budget and itinerary for a 10 day trip that would cost about $1000, covering airfares, Comm Games tickets, accommodation, transport and food. I was delighted when over a dozen kids turned up to the meeting although slightly surprised that they were all girls except for one boy! Disappointingly rather than invite a few mates he dropped out, leaving me with a group of 12 girls all keen to go, along with my two boys and a female PE teacher.

We got busy, I applied for tickets to as many different events as I could, one day and one night event each day, booked the airfares and set about finding accommodation.

I called on the chaplaincy network to make contact with some schools in Melbourne that would consider billeting our group and I was rapt when Chris Helm, chaplain at Box Forest College in Glenroy contacted me to say they were keen. It turned out that Chris is the drummer in a very cool indie band called Skipping Girl Vinegar when he’s not being a chaplain. I went over to Melbourne to meet him and the Principal, Cheryl Baulch who was super supportive of the whole idea and when it turned out to be too hard to get enough billets for us all, offered to let us stay in the school itself. We could use a couple of unused classrooms as our quarters and had  access to the Home Ec room opposite to prepare and eat our meals. It was a perfect arrangement and suited us down to the ground as it made coordinating our movements and transport much easier. They even gave us the school bus to use to get to some events that weren’t as easy to get to by train. To top it all off, Chris picked us up from Avalon airport on arrival and dropped us back there the day we flew home.

 

The Commonwealth Games were great and we saw hockey, swimming, cycling, athletics, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, squash, weightlifting and boxing. I had made ID cards on lanyards for everyone and when we all bought the same zip-up track jackets with “Australia” on the back we started getting asked what were the girls competing in? as people mistook them for athletes and me as their coach! Needless to say the kids loved it! There were night activities at Birrung Marr, along the banks of the Yarra, shopping at the Queen Victoria Markets, tram and train rides and the wonderful atmosphere across Melbourne to enjoy and the 10 days flew by. 

 

There were two unexpected outcomes from the Comm Games trip. The first to do with a fish, the second to do with footy.

 

Throughout the course of the games and featured in the opening ceremony, at the MCG,  were a series of 72 large fish sculptures on barges on the Yarra, each representing one of the countries competing in Melbourne and typifying a fish found in their nation’s waters. They were lit up at night and with “Unguarded Moment” by The Church playing all along the riverbank they made a spectacular sight, creating a beautiful ambience for the crowds of people out each evening. I said to the girls one night, “I wonder what they’re going to do with those fish after the Games are over? Wouldn’t it be cool to get one of those fish for Busselton?” They looked at me strangely and kept walking.

But!

Imagine my surprise and delight a few weeks after we got home when I came across a small article in the newspaper saying that seven of the Commonwealth Games fish sculptures were being auctioned off on ebay with the proceeds going to PLAN, the official charity partner of the Games. I sprang into action and started calling and visiting people all over town, creating a network of supporters willing to contribute some money to a fund in order to buy a fish for Busselton. My idea was greeted quite warmly and people started pledging amounts from $50 to $500 and giving me suggestions of people to call. One of these became the game-changer when I called a bloke called Ray who worked for Pro-Busselton, an agency whose mandate was to promote the town through initiatives that raised the profile of Busselton. He was fully on-board, and even suggested we should bid on all seven fish! We had a budget of about $7000!


Fish Sculptures from the 2006 Commonwealth Games


The night before the auction ended I had to take a trip up to Perth and back, something I rarely did in the one day, let alone the one night. The bidding finished the next morning at about 8am WA time so I was a little groggy when I logged on to ebay. The kids were standing behind me to watch the action. Most serious bidding on ebay happens in the last few minutes and that’s exactly what occurred, the prices started jumping very quickly, by hundreds and thousands of dollars. Some were already out of our price range but I was alive in two auctions in the last minute. As quickly as I’d enter a 4-digit figure I’d be outbid. I kept bidding higher and watching the numbers shoot up across the screen. In the end I managed to win one auction, for the African Bony-Tongue fish sculpture from The Gambia, for about $4500. It was exciting, exhilarating and nerve-wracking, especially bidding with other people’s money. In total the sale of the seven sculptures raised over $28,000 for PLAN I think.


The next job was to get it from Melbourne to Busselton. I called my mate Gary who builds large machinery and asked if he had a transport contact he could recommend. He did and I made the arrangements to get it on a semi-trailer, but before that it needed wrapping for protection. I called Chris from Box Forest and by fortuitous coincidence, he and the members of Skipping Girl Vinegar were only a couple of kilometres away and were happy to help. They bought a big roll of bubble wrap and went to work wrapping my fish. A couple of weeks later it arrived in Busso but sadly that’s where this fishy tale went bad. 


The Gambia

Our fish, An African Bony-Tongue


Initial enthusiasm waned, the council weren’t keen on having it or putting it on display even though there was a perfect location at the entrance to the town. It was stored at the Men’s Shed for several months before being moved to the high school and living outside the art department. I hoped it would be attached to the wall of the art building but by the time we left Busselton in early 2010 it had still not found a permanent home and when I last asked about it no-one seemed to know what had happened to it. 

However, in researching for this article I came across a couple of websites that tell a little more of the story and even give a clue to it’s whereabouts. 

I was contacted by a girl online a couple of years ago who has made it her personal quest to track down each of the 72 Fish and she has a blog detailing her mission, complete with photographs, Fish Blog I even get a mention if you click on the map.

 

After the Comm Games most of the sculptures were given to shires all over Victoria and I have seen several of them in towns around the state in my travels. We actually stopped to look at one at Anglesea this afternoon. The fish I bought was the only one to leave Victoria. This website, Fish locations, details information about the names, origin and known locations of the fish now.

 

After the success of the Commonwealth Games trip I began thinking of other possibilities and that led to me running two footy trips to Melbourne in 2008 and 2009. It wasn’t hard to find kids who loved football and who wanted to spend a week in Melbourne going to as many footy games as possible! Box Forest were happy to have us again and I managed to get good airfares and footy tickets to make the trips affordable. We went during the July holidays so the kids didn’t miss any school. On the first trip in 2008 I took ten kids and we went to Carlton v St Kilda on Friday night, Geelong v Fremantle and Essendon v Brisbane on Saturday and Hawthorn v Sydney on Sunday as well as the Queen Vic markets, National Gallery  and Melbourne Discovery Centre. At the end of the trip the other staff accompanied the kids back to WA while I flew up to Sydney to join my mate Alex for the Pope’s visit for World Youth Day.

 

In 2009 Geelong and St Kilda remained unbeaten until their epic encounter in Round 14 and as anticipation of this clash grew I set about organising another footy trip. I was more ambitious this time and worked out a schedule that took us to six games over two weekends including a stopover in Adelaide on the way home. Fourteen kids signed up for the trip including one brave girl and Sophie came with us. It was a fantastic trip except for one thing. Between the group we barracked for six different teams but not one of us saw our team win! 

The Cats v Saints game at Docklands was a classic, befitting their status at the top of the ladder and the biggest crowd ever at Docklands saw a thriller with St Kilda winning by a goal after a goal from Cameron Ling in the last minute was disallowed. They met again a few months later in the 2009 Grand Final and this time the Cats got up by 12 points to win the flag, but as detailed in chapter 24 of “60 in 60” that did not end well for me.

 

Between the weekends of footy we took a trip to Sovereign Hill at Ballarat and stayed a night at a school there then stopped for a kick of the footy at Hanging Rock on the way back. We went to the AFL Hall of Fame and National Sports Museum as well as going down to Geelong for a day. I had arranged another school to stay at in Adelaide which worked out well but the Dockers got absolutely thrashed by the Crows that night to finish off a series of six losing games.

 

Article Image


The following is an excerpt form chapter 24 about the Geelong v St Kilda game.

 

Now, in 2009,  with the big game approaching I hit on the idea of running a footy trip and taking a group from Busso to Melbourne. I asked Sophie to come with me to help run the trip. Fourteen kids signed up and I got busy organising everything, including staying at Box Forest again. The biggest challenge was securing tickets for the Geelong St Kilda game. On the morning they were released I frantically logged on to Ticketmaster and bought batches of tickets in groups of 4 or 5 as I knew it would be too hard to get 16 tickets all together. I was successful. My group of West Aussie kids had tickets for the game of the season. The trip itinerary included five other games across two weekends of the school holidays with a stopover in Adelaide to see Fremantle play the Crows on the way home.

The trip was fantastic and the game lived up to all the hype and expectation. It was a cliff hanger, with Cameron Ling kicking a goal to level the score in the last minute, only to have it ruled out by a free kick to St Kilda and the Saints hung on to win by 6 points. It is often talked about as one of the best games in AFL history and certainly whetted people’s appetites for a rematch in the finals.

 

 

Life in Busso was not all about sport though. I will conclude the Busselton section of 60 in 60 next time with stories about many other things that happened during our six years down south.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

60 in 60 #31 Busselton

 60 in 60 #31    Busselton

 

I am reflecting on the last 60 years, and writing 60 blog posts. 30 about people and 30 about events, places, experiences and entities.  NB. I did not want to leave such a long gap between posts but starting a new job has taken up most of my time and energy so far this year. I will keep writing until I reach the goal but some chapters may end up under the title "60 in 61"!


 

As a family we were part of the Augusta Beach Mission/Family Festival for 12 years, spending two weeks each January with a large team of volunteers running programs for children, teenagers and adults at Turner Caravan Park in the south-west of WA. I have fantastic memories of many many great experiences during our time at Augusta but the prompt for this chapter is something that happened on our way home from Beach Mission in January 2004.


Busselton WA (Western Australia) cruise port schedule | CruiseMapper


 

We stopped in Busselton to get some lunch, possibly fish and chips, to eat by the foreshore.

Busselton was a quiet little town on Geographe Bay, the quiet cousin of the more popular and more up-market Margaret River just down the road. It boasts the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere but for several years the last section was inaccessible following damage caused by cyclone Alby.

After a peaceful lunch we bundled the kids back in the car for the trip back to Perth.

Carolyn remarked “I love Busselton”. 

I replied casually, “The chaplaincy position at the high school is open”.

Without drawing breath she said “Do you want to apply for it?”

I was surprised by the enthusiasm and excitement in her tone, I had only mentioned it in passing, not with any intent, but it became clear as we talked that Carolyn was VERY keen on the idea. She has always loved being near the ocean and prefers small towns to big cities so I could see the attraction.

 

I should point out at this point that I was extremely happy and settled in my role as chaplain at Carine. I had built the role up from inception to become an established and respected part of the school, I loved the staff and students, I was running successful programs and was highly involved in the life and culture of the school. I wasn’t looking for a change, in fact, I could have very happily still been at Carine now, but my casual comment was the catalyst for a dramatic change in our lives.

 

We talked about the pros and cons of the job at Busselton most of the way home and by the time we got back to Perth it was settled, I would apply for the job. But, I then discovered that applications closed the following day!!!!! Eeek! Panic stations! I got straight to work pulling together a resume and application, identifying referees and responding to the selection criteria. It was a rushed job but I got it in before the deadline.

 

I said to Carolyn, “This is a big decision and we need to be sure it’s right or that we are confident it’s where God is leading us.” I told her that given the fact I had 11 years experience as a chaplain there was a strong likelihood I would get the job, so just getting the job was not enough of a confirmation. We set about testing the water by talking to several people whose views and wisdom we respected to see what they thought.

I rang Dad to talk it over. He was not a believer but he was very positive about moving to a small country town and said the job sounded like a good move to him. I rang Paul in the States to discuss it and he was similarly positive. NB. Paul and I had ridden our bikes around Busselton a few years earlier when he came to Beach Mission with us so he knew the town, and the jetty because we’d been told off for trying to ride our bikes out onto it!

We invited a group of friends to come for a BBQ and asked them their thoughts about the move. My mate Birchy told me that for him, the most important factor in a big decision is how did the family feel about it? As the father of 8 kids he obviously has a greater accountability to family than most people! I told him that Carolyn and the kids were 100% on board and at that stage I was the only one still uncertain. He responded that the other guide for him was prayer and a sense of God’s leading. At that point in the discussion I mentioned that I remembered something I’d written in the margin of my Bible years earlier while listening to a sermon. The preacher had said “A ship is safe in a harbour, but ships aren’t built for harbours”. I admitted that I was in a safe harbour at Carine but maybe God was saying it was time to sail off to a new place and a new challenge.

 

I was offered an interview and duly headed down south a couple of days later. Old friends Laurie and Sonia Haynes and Noel and Steph Kara were living in Busselton by then so I had somewhere to stay the night before meeting the District Council. The interview went very well and the next day they rang to offer me the job. After all the time, thought and prayer we had invested and all the green lights we’d received I was sure it was the right move, with one stipulation. They wanted me to start straight away but I said I needed a term to tie up loose ends, finish my time at Carine and prepare for the big move. They granted my request and I was duly appointed as chaplain at Busselton SHS, to commence in Term 2 2004.

 

There was a lot to do! After some intense tidying and sprucing we put the house on the market. Zachariah had just started Year 12 at Carine and we were loath to disrupt his final year so I set about finding a family at Carine he could board with. We needed plenty of time to deal with all the usual preparing and packing that goes with a move, bearing in mind that we still had four kids at home, with Paulie the youngest just starting primary school.

After many previous moves which we had always done ourselves, this time we did the smart thing and hired a removal company! (Not so smart when they turned up without our bed the day we moved in!!) 

 

I was blessed with a great goodbye from Carine and many expressions of thanks and appreciation for my work at the school. They held a farewell evening attended by many past and current students and staff members. It reinforced how special my time at Carine had been and how much I was going to miss the people, many of whom had become friends and mates as well as colleagues. Even now, nearly 20 years later I’m still in touch with several Carine friends and on rare visits back there I am always warmly welcomed. The Principal during most of my time there, Cesare DiGuilio enthusiastically supported me as a referee when I started applying for teacher positions in 2019.

 

In late April 2004 Zach was settled in with his host family and Carolyn, Sophie, Jordan, Paul and I set off for our new life down south.

 

We rented a house in Harvest Road for the first several months while we looked at houses for sale. We considered building on a block of land we had put a deposit on but the estate rules wouldn’t let us build with the design and materials we wanted so we kept looking and eventually found a fantastic house in College Ave, less than a kilometre from the school. 

It was perfect.

 

Home - Busselton Senior High School


On my first day at the school I had an appointment with Raelene, the Principal and she gave me copies of a couple of previous Yearbooks so I could get a feel for the school. I opened one up to a page with an article by one of the Deputy Principals. At the top of the page she quoted: “A ship is safe in a harbour, but ships aren’t built for harbours”. I knew then that our move by faith was right and God had put his final stamp on our decision.

 

Our School - Busselton Senior High School


When I started at Busselton High the chaplain’s office was in the old caretaker’s house at the far end of the school and not very accessible. Despite this I had a steady stream of visits from kids wanting to talk about stuff and I felt part of the school from the outset. Visibility and connection increased significantly when the new student services suite was completed and I moved into my new office in the admin wing. As I had at Carine, I recreated the décor, a mix of pictures, planes and ephemera all over the walls and ceiling, and I looked for things I could get involved in, and any areas I could introduce new programs. 

I quickly made contact with two local church youthworkers, Stu Robinson and Rod Muir and we ran the Big Breakfast once a week, providing BBQ’d snags, toast and fruit for kids arriving at school. This evolved into Synoptic Youth, a partnership that saw us running a weekly lunchtime program called Phat Phriday. Crazy games and competitions were the order of the day, with the most memorable being “Frozen Chicken Ten Pin Bowling” on a strip of black plastic lubricated with water and detergent. The kids loved it but I got complaints about wasting food from an unnamed teacher. The next time we did it I took the chicken home, cleaned it up, cooked it and ate it! 

 

There were some great people on staff at Busso and I quickly aligned myself with David Gault -Gaultie- in Phys Ed and later Student Services coordinator, John Duthie head of PE and Nick Fucile in the Maths dept. I took on coaching the junior footy team in the Channel 7 Cup. In 2005 I  entered Busselton  in the Chaplains Cup, a competition I had started at Carine for Yr 10 kids because they were too old for the Channel 7 Cup and too young for the Smarter than Smoking Cup. 

 

It was while coaching Busso that I met Brendan Fitzgerald- Fitzy, a curly-headed bright-eyed kid playing in the back pocket. We went up to Perth for the comp, with the final being played under lights, and stayed the night in Perth. It was the week before the AFL Grand Final between Sydney and the Eagles and while we were having breakfast at McDonalds I heard on the radio that there had been extra GF tickets made available for West Coast members. I was already booked to fly to Melbourne to attend a week-long training course for a program called Rock and Water in the first week of the September holidays so I called a mate who was an Eagles member and using his barcode, spent half an hour on the phone and managed to get a Grand Final ticket. 

The game was a classic (albeit low-scoring) contest, one of several between Sydney and West Coast in that era. It came down to a heroic mark by Leo Barry in the final seconds to stop West Coast kicking the winning goal and Sydney held on to win by a point. Being an avowed West Coast hater I was ecstatic when Sydney broke their 72 year premiership drought, even though two weeks earlier Nick Davis and the Swans had broken my heart by snatching an incredible come from behind victory over Geelong in the dying seconds of the semi-final. To this day my mates know that the name Nick Davis raises my hackles!

 

The Rock and Water course was great, some of the best professional development I’ve ever experienced. On the Sunday morning I had a kick of the footy with a few mates at a local park. When we got home for lunch the news was breaking of the second Bali Bombing.

I was stunned to see a familiar face on the news broadcast: Brendan Fitzgerald was one of the Australians killed in the terrorist attack, his sister was badly injured and his Dad was left a paraplegic. I felt numb. Just a week before I’d taken him and the footy team to Perth and now he was dead! About an hour later I received a phone call from a parent at the school asking if I could come and support the kids who were shocked and grieving. I explained I was still in Melbourne. He told me there had been a hasty plan made to get the boys from the school and the footy club together the next night to try and manage their grief, and anger. I said I would try and be there. I was not due to fly home until midweek but I rang Qantas at Tullamarine and explained the circumstances and asked if I could get an emergency change of flights on compassionate grounds. They were understanding and supportive and booked me on a flight for the next day. I arrived in Perth, picked up my car and immediately headed back down to Busselton in a race against time to make it to the gathering. I got there about 20 minutes after the start time and walked in to find a room packed  with teenagers and parents all sharing a common sense of shock, disbelief, sadness and grief at the death of Brendan. I didn’t do much talking, I just listened and encouraged the kids to talk about their feelings and share their reactions. It was a terrible thing for them to deal with but the connection and support they felt by being together was helpful. I told them that while I understood they may feel angry, that they should not use Brendan’s death as an excuse to express hatred or racism or to take it out on others, that Fitzy would not have wanted acts of violence or hate committed in his name. 

 

When school went back there was a deep sense of grief, compounded by the fact that a teacher from Busselton had been killed in the first Bali bombing and another teacher badly burnt. Lightning had struck the school twice.

As part of the Student Services team I suggested we hold a memorial service for Brendan. The task fell to me to organise the event, to be held later in the week. I got his closest mates together and worked with them so that it truly reflected him. When I asked who his favourite teacher was they said Mr Pates. I knew he was the right person to speak at the service but he was away on an outdoor ed camp at Margaret River and unable to be contacted. I drove down to the campsite and asked him if he’d speak about Fitzy at the memorial. He didn’t want to do it but I persisted because I knew he was Brendan’s favourite teacher, he knew him best and he was the right man for the job. In the end he reluctantly agreed. Two of Brendan’s mates also agreed to speak. We chose music he loved and put together a slideshow on powerpoint and lots of people contributed pictures. 

 

                                 Bali bomb victim: My happy ending


I then got a phone call from Brendan’s Mum Lisa asking if it would be OK if she came to the memorial. I hadn’t deliberately  excluded her but because it was a school-based event, to be held in the gym after school one afternoon, all of our planning and thinking was along those lines. I said of course she could come, it would be an honour to have her there. 

 

As expected, the gym was totally packed for the memorial and the kids handled it with great reverence and respect. The mates who spoke did a wonderful job and despite his reluctance, Graham Pates did a brilliant job. By that stage I had done a lot of funerals and memorials and knew what worked and how best to create a fitting tribute and an atmosphere where friends family and staff could express their grief freely and openly. I was really pleased with how it went but was still surprised when Lisa called me the following day and asked if I would conduct Brendan’s funeral? I humbly accepted the task, knowing that it would be a high profile event and that getting it right was extremely important to his family. Fitzy’s parents were divorced so there were some delicate negotiations regarding who wanted what. I spent a lot of time with Lisa and his sister, who was now out of hospital but had burns and perforated eardrums, talking about Brendan, their memories, their sadness, their happy times and laughter, about his character and personality, how he used to come bouncing down the stairs in his socks and slide across the floor each morning, announcing his presence in style. 


I drove up to Perth to meet his Dad who was still in hospital but was determined to be at the funeral. He had taken the kids to Bali for the holiday so there was a measure of regret and feelings of guilt that he struggled with, but at the same time, he told me how happy Brendan had been, how he had tried surfing for the first time the day of the bombing and had stood up on his first attempt. They had gone out to dinner to celebrate and enjoy being on holiday as a family and then tragedy struck in the form of terrorism, evil perpetrated against innocent people, killing men, women and children and shattering the lives of those remaining. His Dad, Terry wanted Brendan to be buried rather than cremated, telling me with tears in his eyes, “He’s been burnt enough!”


                                      A Beautiful Boy: The Story of How the Bali Bombings in 2005 Affected One  Family: Fitzgerald, Terry: 9780646489384: Amazon.com: Books

His Dad wrote a book about Brendan and the impact of the bombing on the family. Some of the eulogies and reflections I gave at the funeral are included in the book.

 

I called upon the same mates and Graham to speak at the funeral, along with family members. It was a massive event, drawing media attention from across Australia and I found myself in a media spokesman role, speaking on behalf of the family to protect their privacy and guard them from the spotlight as they mourned their son. The service went well but by the end I was spent, I had spent many hours and late nights in preparation, and prayer, and been heavily involved in supporting the family as well as students and staff at the school. It is a special privilege to serve families in their time of greatest need and deepest sadness, one I always approached with total commitment and seriousness, knowing that it would form final memories of a family’s loved one. After it was over I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. 

 

I remained in contact with Lisa for several years after Brendan died and occasionally called in to see how she was going and I know from her response and the feedback of others that she appreciated my ongoing support and care.

 

Dealing with Fitzy’s death, happening as it did, a little over a year after starting at the school, went a long way towards establishing my role and ministry within the school. I received a lot of thanks and positive feedback and won a measure of respect amongst the staff, students and school community as a result.

 

 Circle of Life Memorial | Monument Australia

There is a plaque for Fitzy at this Peace Park memorial site on the Busselton foreshore.

 

I have more stories and recollections of my time at Busselton but considering how far apart each chapter of 60 in 60 is now getting written, I will post this section now and pick up the story again next time. 

 

Saturday, January 15, 2022


 60 in 60 #30    Letchy 

 

I am reflecting on the last 60 years, and writing 60 blog posts. 30 about people and 30 about events, places, experiences and entities.

 

I met a lot of really good people during my sixteen years in school chaplaincy and made many close friends. The one I have the greatest affection for is Letchy. He was christened Greg Letch but is universally known and loved as Letchy. He was chaplain at Morley SHS when I was at Carine and we met at one of the regular PD/training days run by Youthcare. 

I don’t have distinct memories of our first meeting but I know we hit it off pretty quickly, having much in common: young families, a love of footy and sport, and a passion for working with kids. Letchy and his wife Sheryl trained as Salvo Ministers in the eastern states before he became a chaplain. They’ve lived in Ballajura for the last 30-odd years, not far away from my big brother Alan’s place, and have three sons, Ryan, Garred and Daniel, all of whom are now married.


 

I have much clearer memories of our first adventure. We both enjoyed playing golf so I suggested we go out to The Vines Resort to watch the Heinekin Open Golf Tournament one January. He has some rellies who live at the Vines which gave the added bonus of access to the swimming pool to cool off during the heat of a Perth summer. I had taken Paulie the year before and he rode his bike around as we joined the galleries following players like Greg Norman and Ian Woosnam. He had scored a signed glove from Aussie Major winner Wayne Grady as well. I persuaded Letchy we should take our mountain bikes so we could get around the course quicker. What we hadn’t counted on was the over-officiousness of the course marshals who tried to stop us riding our bikes. Why? To avoid damage to the course! You mean the course where 30,000 people have been traipsing up and down for the last week, and the countless buggies and service vehicles, media crews etc etc? I stress, we were never riding on the fairways, only on the paths and spectator areas beyond the rough. We continued to ride, trying to avoid the marshals but when we got near the clubhouse they had called in reinforcements, a couple of on duty police officers! As we approached them they signalled for us to stop. I looked the other way and kept riding! Letchy wasn’t so quick, or rebellious, and was baled up by the constabulary! He got a talking to and was told not to ride on the course any more. I found him a little later and we went for a swim to keep out of trouble! When Sheryl heard the story later I think she thought I was a bad influence on her husband!

 

Around this time I was pretty involved with SU (Scripture Union) as a volunteer camp leader and a number of us were invited to a meeting and challenged to come up with ideas for camps SU could run during the various school holiday periods. SU runs lots of camps: hiking, caving, abseiling, canoeing, white water rafting, wilderness camps, as well as creative and performing arts, beach festivals, MAD camp as mentioned in #29, sailing camp etc. I was stuck for a new idea until a Eureka moment occurred a week or two later. I had a flash of inspiration- Footy Camp! I would recruit a bunch of mates who shared my passion for football and we would run a camp in the July holidays for kids who loved footy! I will devote a future chapter of 60 in 60 to the legendary tales of Footy Camp but suffice to say here that Letchy was one of my first recruits, despite his sad affliction of being a West Coast Eagles supporter. He was already umpiring local junior footy which made him a logical choice as umpy for the daily battles between the Cats and the Dogs, the two teams at Footy Camp. 

I directed the camp for about five years from the late 90s and it is still going strong now, some twenty years later. Stay tuned for the full Footy Camp story in the next month or two.



Similarly, Letchy was an inaugural coach in the CFFL as mentioned in #28 and he has contributed many memorable moments in the annals of that august fantasy footy league, but alas, they will have to wait for a future chapter as well.

 

In 2003 I invited Letchy and another mate, Birchy to join me for a footy weekend in Melbourne. I took Zach, and Letchy brought Garred making a party of five flying out of Perth on a Thursday night. It was round 7 of the AFL season and we went to 3-4 games over the weekend, the main attraction being the game between the Cats and the Eagles at Kardinia Park on Saturday afternoon. Geelong started on fire, with David Wojcinski and Paul Chapman kicking goals but as was often the case in those days, West Coast had Geelong’s measure and hit back. The result was a rare draw which was pretty unsatisfying for all of us. We had a kick of the footy on the ground afterwards before heading back to Melbourne for a night game at the MCG. It was great to hang out with some mates and to be able to bring our sons along as well. 

 

I was always looking for ways to get kids from school involved in stuff, especially if it was positive, challenging or a Christian event. Letchy was of a similar mind so we combined resources one year and took a group of kids from Carine and Morley down to SaltBush, a Christian Music Festival that ran at Katanning for a few years. Our mate and fellow chaplain Sev, Tony Severin, was part of the organising team. Camping, music, food and fun made it a great event, especially with a trip to the big adventure playground in town, complete with giant slides, swings and things that went round and round or up and down. 

 

Doing stuff with Letchy was always great for two reasons. He is a great companion, a funny, lovable character, always up for an adventure and a laugh, but he is also a godly man with a heart full of compassion, love and wisdom. Many many times our conversations would turn to deeper subjects, how we were travelling in our marriages and relationships, our walk with God and our work and ministry with young people. Countless times Letchy has given me insights and reflections that speak deeply to my situation, especially in the difficult times when I battled mental health problems and depression. He is one of those people who has spiritual understanding but has his feet firmly planted on the ground. He was not afraid to challenge me about things or to gently point out where I was going wrong but always in an attitude of love and mateship.

 

I write this in the past tense only because having lived on opposite sides of the country for the last ten years we rarely get the chance to hang out together these days. I miss those times a lot.

 

I know Letchy will agree 100% when I say that the best times we’ve had together were when we hiked sections of the Bibbulmun Track which stretches over a thousand kilometres from the Perth hills all the way to Albany in the deep south-west of WA. While some people are able to set aside the 40-odd days it takes to walk the whole track in one go, we set out with the aim of hiking end to end in stages, for 2-3 days at a time. We started at Kalamunda and set off on the first stage carrying heavy packs, food and water, sleeping bags and cooking equipment, enough for three days. There are hiker’s huts at regular intervals all the way along the track and most people hike one or two sections per day, roughly 20 kilometres. The huts have three walls, tables and benches, drop dunnys, firepits and water tanks. Sometimes we shared quarters with other hikers, sometimes we were the only ones there for the night. It was pretty hard going to start with until we got used to the weight and how best to manage our equipment and provisions, especially in the hillier sections. We walked at a steady pace and talked a lot. Not constantly, there were plenty of stretches where we walked in silence and soaked in the beauty and peace of the Australian bush, but we also talked and listened and shared our stories, thoughts, feelings and opinions. We had a good understanding of how each other were going and knew when it was time to stop for a rest, a drink, or for lunch. One of the greatest luxuries in life is eating a simple meal of Cup-a-Soup, crackers with tuna and cheese and a bite-sized chocolate bar while sitting in a shady spot in the bush with one of your best mates. We loved it and felt like we were eating like kings on those days. It amuses me no end to recount that one day while at work I decided to replicate that sort of meal for lunch and discovered it was nowhere near as satisfying when eaten sitting in my office as it was on a fallen tree in the bush with Letchy!

We did four hikes over a couple of years and from memory made it as far as Dwellingup on the last one before circumstances changed and put a stop to our hikes. 

 

We moved to Victoria in 2011. 

 

We didn’t give up on our goal. I was all set to go to Perth and hike a further section when I had a mishap, slipping over while cleaning vomit out of a bus!! I badly wrenched my knee and had to make a painful call to Letchy to say I wouldn’t be able to go hiking with him on that trip! We were both deeply disappointed. I did get back to WA and hike another section with Letchy about a year later.

A few traditions developed on our evenings on the Bibbulmun. Letchy would spend hours tending to his feet, treating and patching hot spots and blisters with creams and bandages, all the while complaining about his boots and lamenting that the latest incarnation of footwear he was wearing were no better than the previous pair of boots. While I felt sorry for him and the pain and discomfort he suffered, it always amused me that my feet never gave me any trouble even if I was wearing a cheap pair of op shop sneakers!

While he was being foot doctor, I would read aloud entries in the log books that were kept at each hiker’s hut and then write up our story of the day. 

 

Our Bibbulmun adventures carry some painful memories as well. On the trip we had to abort due to my injury we had planned to take Ryan and a young Afghan boy called Huss that Greg and Sheryl had fostered for a number of years. He was a refugee from that troubled country and the Letches had welcomed him into their home and their hearts, treating him like a son. Letchy still wanted the boys to have the Bibbulmun experience so a few weeks later he went with them on his own and they hiked a section of the track. 

Less than a year later tragedy struck and Huss took his own life. It was a devastating and heart-breaking time and I vividly remember crying with them on the phone when I heard the news. Any death is sad but the death of a young person carries a level of sadness that is hard to fathom or describe, and when you add the extra dimension of suicide, the pain and anguish defies description entirely. My heart ached for my mate and his wife and family but my pain was a mere shadow of the hurt they experienced.

There was nothing I could do except be there, on the other end of the phone, and to offer my love, care and sympathy. 

 

I did have an opportunity several months later to do something concrete and symbolic to support my mate. Letchy and I returned to the Bibbulmun and hiked the same section he had walked with the boys, retracing their steps and reliving the memories that were now so precious to Letchy. I read their journal entries in the log books and then added my own thoughts and reflections in tribute to Huss and to my great mate. 

I’m not sure when it will happen but I trust we will get back out on the Bibbulmun again.


 

After Letchy left chaplaincy he started working as a bus driver in Perth. Years later when we moved back to Victoria I also started working as a bus driver and we shared stories of strange customers, difficult drivers, common problems and mishaps on the road. I think he told me he’d broken eight mirrors one year! He still drives a Party Bus on weekends.

 


After I finished directing RYLA seminars we looked for something we could do as a family instead of me doing stuff with other people and Carolyn being left with the kids on her own. The thing we found was SU’s Augusta Beach Mission, an annual event at Turner Caravan Park in Augusta, the most south-westerly town in Australia. For the following twelve years we were part of the team of Christian families and volunteers who ran programs for children, teenagers, adults and families who were camping at Augusta in the first two weeks of January. I was part of the teenage team the first year while Carolyn worked with the pre-schoolers. Our kids joined in all the programs. I graduated to leader of the teen program for a few years before eventually becoming the Mission Director. We loved spending the first couple of weeks of the year in an outreach ministry in a beautiful part of the world, with people we loved. There were lots of changes along the way and our team grew in the process. In the last 3-4 years we were involved there were about 80 people on the team when you counted all the kids, teenagers and young people. 

 

I invited Letchy and his family and Birchy and his clan to join the team and for several years the Holts, Letches and Birches enjoyed camping together at Augusta as part of the SU team. The program name changed from a beach mission to a family festival and we got better and better at running great programs that included, music, drama, games, movie nights, quiz nights, Q&A forums, kids clubs, teenage adventure activities and concerts. As the festival grew in size and scope we needed to develop a new leadership model. We decided on a leadership team that divided roles up according to people’s skills. Rolf became the administrator, taking care of all the organisation and paperwork, Paul and Michael organised all the drama and children’s programs and Letchy became the logistics officer, arranging, collecting and managing all the equipment including marquees, tents and the bus. My role became team leader/MC. We had a kitchen team led by experienced cooks who provided amazing food for 80 people three times a day. I even recruited Mum and Walter onto the team and Mum was wonderful running craft activities each morning with the mums and ladies. There were some truly gifted and amazing people on the team and a huge amount of work went into preparing and training the team each year before we got to Augusta. (I will probably devote a chapter to SU and our time at Augusta, there are so many people and events that form such special memories for us.) 

Letchy was brilliant at his job and Sheryl was equally as good in working with the little kids. I have great memories and images of Sheryl and Carolyn working together at Augusta and our friendship as families grew even stronger through being part of the festival team. Garred and Daniel in particular grew into leadership roles within the team as well.

 

Before Covid I usually managed to get back to WA about once a year to visit family and friends. I always stay at least one night at Letchy’s, the “Ballajura Motor Inn”. I always feel welcome and comfortable there and love catching up with such close friends. Letchy is the essence of a genuinely good bloke. He’s warm, friendly, funny and caring. He gives me big hugs and always makes me feel special, loved and cared for. We laugh together, and we cry together. We celebrate and commiserate. We muck around and we get serious. He’s one of the very best people I know.

 

Love ya Letchy!



Wednesday, December 29, 2021

60 in 60 #29 Phil

 60 in 60 #29    Phil 

I am reflecting on the last 60 years, and writing 60 blog posts. 30 about people and 30 about events, places, experiences and entities.

 

When I was directing RYLA and RYPEN (#27 of 60 in 60) I met a lot of people and made many friends. One who became a good mate was Phil Sparrow. He came to RYLA as a participant and made an immediate impression, he was confident and articulate and showed obvious leadership capabilities from the very first day. I directed six RYLA seminars in succession so the events and memories have tended to become mixed up in my mind, especially as it was in the early 90s. I don’t remember which year Phil came to RYLA but I sensed it would not be the last and when I was recruiting team members for the following year I invited him to join the team. It was the beginning of a connection and partnership that has spanned many events and places over the last 30 years.

 RYLA crew upon return from Margaret River. 


Phil had outdoor skills which made him an asset when we took the RYLA crews to camp at Margaret River and go abseiling and caving at places like WI16, Brides Cave and the Willyabrup sea cliffs. He also had a strong interest in social justice issues and geopolitical ideas. We had run the One World Dinner each year and it was Phil who suggested another activity, “The Money Game” (#25) that we could try. The first iteration didn’t have the same impact as the OWD but I loved the idea and over the next ten years I used it at both RYPEN and the Year 10 Leadership Camp, developing and refining it to the point where it was a highlight of the program and left an enduring impact on the participants. When I first met him Phil was exploring questions of faith and belief. He was going out with a girl I knew through youthwork circles, Franca, and I remember him mailing a coconut back to her from somewhere overseas, with the address written directly on the husk. 

Phil joined my team for RYPEN as well and I have vivid memories of us running around the Araluen campsite playing “Capture the Watermelon” a more challenging variation of the popular wide game, “Capture the Flag”. 

 

Around this time I was working as the Coordinator of the Chip-Inn drop in centre at Warwick Church of Christ, a long-standing youth project. Chip Inn was started by a bloke called Jeff Pope and used the latest in whiz-bang computers at the time, Commodore 64s, to attract local kids on a Thursday night. I had heard of Chip Inn when I was working at the Rockingham Youth Centre in the late 80s and met Jeff at a youthwork conference. 

 

Carolyn and I spent eight months in the eastern states in 1988. We went to the National Gathering in Canberra, World Expo and The Pavilion of Promise in Brisbane and then  six months at Kilmany Park in Sale doing a diploma in youth and community work with Fusion before returning to Perth. I started a twelve month placement with Fusion Perth doing school seminars, day trips and youth outreach. Around this time I was invited to apply for the position at Chip Inn by the senior minister Geoff Carslake. Initially it was just one day a week but the role grew over the next few years and I worked closely with the ministry team: Bruce Eagles, Lyn Devlin and youth minister Rob Mason.

 

Chip Inn was mostly staffed by volunteers and each Thursday night we would set up the ageing 64s and open the doors to local teenagers. I asked Phil to join the team and before long he was so effective that I was able to get him on the payroll and he became my 2ic, co-worker and partner-in-crime. We developed a great partnership and I loved working with him at Chip Inn. As the computers became more antiquated and unserviceable the focus of Chip Inn switched from them to other activities. Many of the kids preferred to hang around outside and the team concentrated more on relationship-building and making connections. At its peak Chip Inn attracted over 100 kids a night. It needs to be said that there were other reasons they came. The nearby bush that separated the church from the Warwick Grove shopping centre provided perfect cover for them to go and smoke dope and bucket bongs. We didn’t condone this but nor did we condemn it. We were there to offer friendship, support and a safe place and to demonstrate our faith through love in action. The fact that so many kids came so regularly was proof that we were doing something right and we gradually expanded the range of activities to offer alternatives to our clientele.

 

The kids at Chip Inn sitting on my old Holden. A kid asked me one night why I let them sit on it, I relied, "Because people are more important than cars".


We ran a basic canteen each week selling soft drink and chocolate bars, which gave us a good way to meet new kids, ask their names and get to know them a little bit. Around this time I had established a relationship with the local bakers, John and Rose Knight, and several afternoons a week I would go and collect their leftover bread, cakes, rolls and donuts and then distribute it to a range of charities and people. I always had boxes of bread and goodies in the car and was known by reputation as the guy with all the bread! We saved the jam and cream donuts, cakes and goodies for the Chip Inn canteen and the kids were so eager to get their hands on them that Phil and I created “The Corridor of Death” as a right of passage in order to score a prized donut or cake. We would take up position in the narrow corridor between the auditorium and the back door. Any kid wanting a donut had to run the gamut of the Corridor of Death. That simply meant they had to get past us. It was a brutal physical game and Phil I spared no effort and took no prisoners as we blocked, bashed, bounced and rebuffed waves of clamouring teens trying to get to the holy grail of sweet treats! Many a kid got squashed between us and the brick walls. As the Corridor of Death grew in intensity we started wearing skate helmets and elbow pads for protection/effective combat! It was hot sweaty and hilarious, the kids loved it and came back for more each week. 

Another game that was a big hit was Bush Hockey. Two teams wielding rolled up newspapers bound with masking tape chased and belted a soft bouncy rubber ball up and down the auditorium scoring goals against tables turned on their sides.  The regular church members would have been stunned to see their place of worship turned into a sporting battlefield for 20-30 boisterous teenagers each Thursday night.

 

We started running outings and camps to places like Nanga and Margaret River. Many of the kids had never been camping, let alone caving and abseiling so they jumped at the chance to try some adventure activities. We would camp at Contos Field, swim at Contos beach and wash in the fresh water spring that runs out of the rocks at the bottom of the hill. I taught them an old schoolyard game, “Rule the World” on the beach and they played it for hours. At night time we’d cook camp food and sit around the campfire telling stories or sharing our faith, go looking for possums or play “Capture the Flag” across the wide expanse of Contos Field. Exploring Giants Cave, swinging across the sunken floor of Brides Cave and doing run downs at Willyabrup were fantastic and memorable experiences for the kids. On a camp at Nanga we spent hours swimming in the river and wrestling kids in rubber tyre tubes. It was on that camp that the cheeky Michael Bregman nicknamed me “Burgertron”!

The debrief at the end of the night at Chip Inn. 


 Willyabrup Sea Cliff


We had a Coaster Bus, painted in the colours of the Aboriginal flag, which made all of these trips and camps possible. Before Phil joined the team I had taken a group of eleven kids and three leaders on a trip across the country in it to the Blackstump Christian Music and Arts Festival at Cataract Park, about an hour outside of Sydney. I had been to Blackstump the year before while we were still at Sale, making some money selling screen printed T-shirts under my label, “Printz of Peace”. It was a fantastic three day event and I was keen to take a group of West Aussie kids from Chip Inn. It was an “eventful” trip to put it mildly! The roof rack struts, straining under the weight of all the gear, started popping off with a bang as we climbed Greenmount hill just out of Perth! Plan B was called for and a covered trailer from YWAM was delivered so we could set off again. Six flat tyres! Yes, 6! Three on the bus and three on the trailer. We quickly ran out of spares and had to wait while getting them repaired, one on a dirt road “shortcut” out of Port Augusta. 

The Blackstump Trip, 1989


Perth kids in the big city


We limped into Blackstump after three and a half days on the road , the last leg of the journey punctuated by intermittent broadcasts of the 1989 Grand Final as the radio signal dropped in and out every time we descended or climbed a hill. The kids became celebrities at Blackstump when it was discovered they had come “All the way from Perth”. Jeff, who was now living and working in Sydney, revisited his Chip Inn roots and generously offered to have us stay at their place for a couple of days in Sydney before we headed back west across the Nullarbor. The only other driver was a team member, Terry so driving stints were interspersed with “sleep” on the floor behind the driver’s seat. It was a tough trip for all sorts of reasons, which of course made it all the more memorable.

 Some of the early Chip Inn team and kids


Another Chip Inn excursion involved dragging the kids up very early on a Saturday morning and driving up to Toodyay to watch the start of the Avon Descent. The powerboats and kayaks shooting the rapids at Extracts Weir were spectacular but not as crazy and engrossing as the hour-long mud fight we had with the kids up and down the river bank!

 

In 1992 I was selected to attend an international youth leadership conference in Montreal and in my absence Phil took over managing the drop in centre for the six weeks I was away. I knew it was in safe hands while I spent a week in London, a week at the conference in Canada and a month in the States, culminating at a Calvary Chapel conference in Costa Mesa California with Skip Joannes and Mike Klenner. 

 

Atop Observation City


By the time I left Chip Inn to work as chaplain at Carine, Phil had moved on to a youth project based in Scarborough. He was able to arrange access to Observation City and permission for me to take a group of teachers abseiling off the roof. 

While at UWA working towards his Masters degree he met a girl called Julie and not too long after they got engaged.

I was honoured when Phil asked me to be one of his groomsmen although a misread on my part almost scuttled my place in the wedding party! Phil asked me to organise a buck’s night for him and, never having been to one, I relied on the stories and legends of buck’s nights for guidance. Given our faith and values it was never going to degenerate into booze and strippers so we opted for some thrills bridge swinging and a BBQ. So far so good. It seemed however that some sort of prank was a necessary part of the right of passage so a few of us grabbed Phil at the end of the night, held him down and I shaved a cross in his chest hair. I feel embarrassed writing about it because it backfired badly. Phil was horrified, to the extent that he seriously considered excluding me from the wedding party! His idea of a buck’s night was something very different to mine and he was not happy at all. I am grateful for two things, one, that he forgave me enough not to boot me as groomsman, and two, that it is the only time we’ve had a serious falling-out. The wedding was a lovely occasion, held at the Stoneville Children’s home where Julie worked.

A few years later when Phil and Julie chose to re-declare their marriage vows they asked me to conduct the “service” on the banks of the Swan River in Nedlands.

 

Phil and Julie's wedding, easy to see who the cool one is.


We were both very involved with Scripture Union-SU- as camp leaders and directors around this time. We were part of the leadership team for the newly created MAD Camp (Make A Difference Camp) aimed at developing young people in their faith and discipleship. The camp was held at Eagle’s Nest retreat centre in the Avon valley and another team member was Andrew Broadbent. Broady has many talents but chief amongst them was the ability to get me into trouble, or to be present when I did so myself! There will be more to say about Broady in a future chapter but this story needs to be told here.

MAD Camp was typical of most SU camps in that there was a lot of time spent having fun, playing games and enjoying the company of teenagers. It had an aim of teaching and encouraging young Christians in their walk with Jesus. The combination of fun and faith and the influence and role-modelling of leaders they could relate to always created a positive and powerful environment. Each night there would be music and worship followed by one of the team leading a teaching session on some aspect of Christian faith. 

 

Broady, Phil and I are all good mates but it’s fair to say that of the three, Broady is the funny one and Phil is the serious one. On this particular night, Phil was doing the teaching and while I don’t remember the theme (for reasons that will soon become obvious) I know he had spent a lot of time and effort preparing for it and was intent on delivering it in such a way as to make an impact on the campers and challenge them in their growth.

We were all sitting around on the floor of the cosy meeting room when disaster struck, in the shape of Broady! Turning to me he asked in a whisper, “Do you smell petrol?”. Immature as it may be, I knew this was code for him having just farted! I burst out laughing and then tried to quickly stifle my laughter, knowing it was inappropriate and inopportune to be laughing while Phil was teaching. The problem was that with subtle but meaning-laden looks from Broady he kept provoking me and I soon collapsed into that helpless state of uncontrollable laughter! By now Phil was again horrified! What was I doing wrecking his presentation? I tried desperately to stop, and apologised repeatedly but if you’ve ever been in that state you know it is almost impossible to escape from and with Broady acting innocent and looking at me with mock disdain I was gone! I think I had to leave the room but by then the magic was broken and the session had been well and truly sabotaged! That would have been bad enough but in the true spirit of youthwork praxis/action-reflection, once the kids had all gone to bed came the “debrief”, a one-to-one dissection of the night’s events in which Phil took me to town and expressed in no uncertain manner how disappointed and unhappy he was with my actions. I tried to explain but he wasn’t having any of my pitiful excuses that “Broady had farted” and just kept hammering me for the way I had ruined the session and the harm I had done to the cause of the gospel. It went on for a long time and I had no leg to stand on, I was guilty as charged and just had to grit my teeth and bear it. To add a final Machiavellian twist, all the while, Broady was in the bed next door pretending to be asleep to avoid any of Phil’s wrath. He delighted in telling me later he had heard the whole thing and had dared not move, in order to escape any recrimination or guilt by association! Even now, years later, Broady can reduce me to fits of guilty laughter with those four words, “Can you smell petrol?”

NB. I don’t consider this episode to have been a falling-out, more a clash of cultures and ideas!

 

Once I started working at Carine I knew I needed a support group of peers and like-minded people to stand with me and pray for me through the challenges of chaplaincy. I asked Phil and Broady to be part of it, along with another mate, Hugh Francis and thus The Breakfast Club was born. Some members came and went. Khristo Newall was part of it for a few years, including the memorable day when we decided to play tennis before breakfast and he wore a tennis skirt for the occasion. Another who shall not be named came for a few months before being unofficially expelled for his careless treatment of Hugh’s beloved cat Matilda. We met one Saturday morning a month for breakfast at Hugh’s, each person bringing something to share. I always had bread of course, while Phil expressed his individuality by bringing random items, not always known for their breakfast qualities. I seem to recall some quinces on one occasion. From humble beginnings The Breakfast Club became an institution that continued to meet together for over twenty years. When we moved to Busselton the meetings were less frequent but just as eagerly looked forward to and even now that I’ve been in Victoria for ten years, we still get together for Breakfast Club whenever I go back to Perth, usually at a café or restaurant where we share a meal and catch up. There was no set agenda other than to talk about how we were going in various aspects of our lives and to pray together. While it started out as a support group for me it quickly transitioned into a mutual support group where we could share openly and honestly and a great bond grew between the four of us, Hugh, Broady, Phil and I.

 An early version of The Breakfast Club

Phil, Broady, Hugh, Me


Phil and Julie were blessed with the birth of a daughter, Pieta, but quickly discovered that she had a serious and potentially fatal heart condition soon after the birth, requiring emergency surgery in Melbourne. Thankfully the surgery was successful. I again had the privilege of conducting a child dedication service for Pieta when she was a baby. She has now grown into a lovely young woman, and is currently studying at ANU in Canberra. 

 

Phil will need to afford me some grace in this part of the story because I can’t remember the specific timelines of the following events. He and Julie were both committed to doing community development work in other parts of the world and they set their path for Afghanistan soon after they were married. They moved to the northern city of Mazar-el-sharif, learnt Farzi, the local language, and became immersed in the Afghan culture. When the September 11 attacks occurred they had to evacuate and return to Australia, leaving behind resources, friends and unfinished work as the world’s attention was turned to fighting terrorism in that region. They have worked with TEAR, IAM and the UN in several tours of duty in Afghanistan and their two eldest children, Pieta and Elijah were raised there. On and off they spent many years working and living in difficult and dangerous conditions in that troubled country. Phil and Julie have a deep love for Afghanistan and have always hoped to be able to go back and continue their work there. Phil has been back for short-term projects over the years but no opportunities have arisen for them to return fully.

There has been a hole and an ache in Phil’s heart for Afghanistan which may never go away and he has found it very difficult to find meaningful and fulfilling work back here in Australia over the last several years.

 

Phil and I have a lot in common, but just as many things that make us different. He is highly educated, an intellectual with a passion for community development and international mission. He is a deep thinker but with his feet firmly on the ground. Phil has an amazing skill-set, he’s an improviser with brilliant practical skills, a bush engineer for whom no task is too challenging or too difficult. He maintains the family property at Margaret River, is mechanically minded and intensely resourceful. Unlike me he has zero interest in football, often mocking me with tales of how well “Buzzy Franklin” played on the weekend. We share one sporting memory, the battles for “The Golden Racquet” fought out on the squash court each month or so for a few years. He surfs and has recently restarted Christian Surfers events for kids in Perth.

Phil has written two books, one about life and work in Afghanistan and the other about fatherhood in which he compiled stories, anecdotes and insights from a group of men reflecting on how they experienced being Dads. I was rapt to be able to contribute some stories for the book.


A few years ago Phil went through a very hard time that caused him a great deal of trauma and anguish and resulted in the loss of a job he loved. While I was not living there in person, I was glad to be able to provide a level of support for him through regular phone calls and messages. It reinforced for me the value of true friendship, the importance of connection and the absolute worth of having people you love and trust to turn to when the shit hits the fan.

 

I love Phil. He is one of my closest mates and I greatly value his friendship. I know I say this about a lot of people but in every instance it is genuine and true. I am fortunate to have a number of very very good friends, people I love, respect and care about and who I believe feel the same way towards me. Friendships such as the one Phil and I share are a rich blessing for which I am immensely grateful.

 

I love you mate.