Things I Should Have Said But Didn’t

Sometimes when we have the chance to say something, we don’t. About two years ago one of my uncles died and I should have spoken at his funeral. This personal post is what I should have said to the public gallery that attended

‘Hi everyone. I’m Marcus and Jim was one of my three uncles. I want to tell you what I knew of Jim. This will not be a short speech because that doesn’t fit with what I owe Jim

Aunty Julie you’ll know much of this so these words are mainly for my cousins Racquel and Alan and if Rod was still here with us, for him too. Rod I hope you’re paying attention.

Jim was big. When you’re a small kid, Jim truly fitted the image of a giant. 6 foot five, large in body, short crop of hair, he filled the space around him. But it wasn’t really in Jim’s style to try and own that space, especially not in this family, he was just there, in it. Aunty Julie I know you know there were times that I was very lucky he was there, playing the role he did

Racquel and Alan I want you to know something really important about your dad and mum – I always felt safe when I stayed at your place and I always slept well. Aunty I loved coming to spend time with you and Uncle, even when I got older and I was sleeping out on the couch on some bloody cold winter’s nights covered in blankets and the glow of a small kerosene heater up at your house on the Warrion hill. But it wasn’t just the nights.

When I was just about to turn four, Jim bought me my first footy jumper and from then on I was a Richmond supporter. Which really pissed my dad off because he was a saints supporter, but as Jim told me, ‘I’d waited for quite a while to see when your dad was going to get you your own jumper. He didn’t get around to it, so I did’ I don’t remember that jumper but I do remember Richmond.

And so it was that my uncle stepped in and recruited me across to the tigers. But it wasn’t just buying a jumper – no he took me to my first ever final in 72 when we were beaten by Carlton. But we were back there again in 73 when then right result eventuated and again in 74, this time holding me above his shoulders as players like Francis Bourke were kicking balls into the stand prior to the game. I was about 9 and a wisp of a kid, but still he was waving me about like a scarf above his head trying to attract Bourke’s attention.

Jim taught me how to go rabbiting and how to fish the surf of the 90mile beach. Along with his best mate John and John’s son Phil, it seemed that we were for ever driving up past Sale and onto the 90mile and places near by. Jim had a bunch of ferrets that I was in charge of feeding. Bread soaked in milk for breakfast and small amounts of meat in the afternoons.

Ferrets smell, and they bite but they’re smart and loyal and farmers would get Jim and John in to clear out burrows that had appeared in their paddocks making things precarious for livestock. We’d set nets over the holes and send the ferrets in and then I’d have to pounce on the rabbits as they’d gotten temporarily caught in the nets. Out near Sale somewhere – John you’d know better than me, but Jim’s best ferret had likely caught a rabbit and was sitting on it. I don’t know how long Jim dug that burrow up for trying to find it, but when you’re about 8 or 9, it seemed like half a day. He was quiet but persistent.

Jim taught me how to quickly dispatch a rabbit and how to skin one without a knife if you needed to, how to saute them in a pan on an open fire or dust them with flour or breadcrumbs to crisp them up. I love pan fried rabbit

Or we’d fish along the surf beaches with these giant home made cane rods and wide spool reels, with star sinkers and two hooks of white bait that Jim would cast what seemed like miles out past the surf break. I never really had the strength to cast my own rod (that Jim had bought me) very far, and the times I caused a birds nest of fishing line just after casting were too numerous to mention. But Jim never said much. He’d just cut the tangled mess of fishing line free, chuck it in the creel and rig the whole thing up again. We caught plenty of fish, and assortment of sharks, lots of salmon, the occasional sting ray and bloody big swimmer crabs. To this day the only way I can eat crab is to cook it whole on an open fire.

Jim was big but never laid a hand on me but for one occasion, when whilst playing in the sand dunes I spotted what appeard to be two small red diamonds glowing in a hole in the dune. The sun was behind me and was bouncing off the sand, onto my face and reflecting back into the hole. My face was about 5 inches away from the opening of that hole and as I stared at those orangey red diamonds I was fascinated by their shape. So I wandered down to jim standing there watching the tip of his reel bouncing and told him what I’d discovered. ‘Ya bloody dickhead’ he barked at me with his big arm crashing down across my back. It wasn’t a hit so much as a thumping arm half sweeping me out of the way.

How many shots did you put into the hole John? six or seven before that snake slithered out? That snake was about as long as Jim was tall and even though I was skinny, it was well thicker than my arms. And I was five inches from it’s mouth. That’s the closest I ever came to harm while your dad was looking after me, which is more than I can say about my own home where being flogged with a jockey riding crop made out of cane and leather flung by an alcohol fueled rage was at least a weekly occurence. Racquel and Alan, parts of my family have not always been kind to your dad but I know what they didn’t and that was during my young years he provided me with a safe place to sleep and taught me life skills I still have. The debt may even be bigger than that and I am truly thankful.

Jim taught me how to milk your family cow and even though I was less than pleased as a twelve year old getting up on cold and sometimes dark Colac mornings when the grass crunched under your feet and your breath hung forever in small clouds, I remember how to wash the cow’s teats with warm water, how to tie one hoof back a little, how to cover the pail when the cow played funny buggers. And I remember the taste of warm, fresh straight from the cow milk. Your dad would always tell me not to scoop the cream off the top. He always knew I did and he never said anything about it.

But Colac’s cold was nothing compared to the nights standing around at Olympic Park grehound track, huddling next to these diesel fueled open flamed fire poles trying to hold out the wind. Jim had taught me how to catch a greyhound after a race. He loved his grey hounds, especially Ti Tree Gem (who would have won the Cranbourne Cup if not for tearing a nail two weekes before) .We’d drive around to Mount Gambier, Warrnambool, Cranbourne, Sandown, Ballarat. The nifty little dog trailer was state of the art back then, up to four dogs in pretty much luxury. I still see those trailers now and think of Jim. In the catching pen I’d await the arrival and have to slip the lead on. If we’d won I’d get in the photo. He’d rig up the clothes line so the dogs could all go for a walk at the same time; we slip them in Wadey’s paddock (where I first learned to drive or steer an old slant six valiant) to let them have a good long training run – I’d have to swing a fake rabbit over my head to get the dog’s attention. Jim had gotten into dog nutrition and some of the things he tried to feed the dogs were impressive.

Jim was big, introverted, occasionally self indulgent but loyal, determined and persistent. At a time when there was not much money in his home, he and Aunty still opened their doors to me. From my younger years until I was about 14 or 15, he fulfilled the dad role I wasn’t able to get at my own home.

His qualities of determination existed in Rodney who died trying to rescue his kids from a house fire, charging in, not knowing they’d already been gotten out. And in recent times he and Aunty have tried to take on the parenting role of Rod’s children – a cause of much grief and hardship for Jim and for you too Aunty.

As I’d gotten older I didn’t see you as much but I thought of you often. And the times I rang and you weren’t on another dance festival trip or whatever was great to chat, albeit briefly

So Racquel and Alan and you too Rod if you’re listening, I’m always going to remember your dad with love and thanks and of all the things I can say about your dad, the most important one is this – I always got a good nights sleep at your house

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