26th January 1995, Kew, Melbourne, Australia
By our reckoning, giving a speech is much like turning fifty - you know that sooner or later you're going to start making a fool of yourself. Take it from us - fifty is old, very old, and it will remain so until we ourselves are fifty. Both Mum and Dad have expressed grave concerns about this speech. Dad isworried that it will be too long. Mum is worried that it will be too "interesting".
But as the straight and narow offspring of two straight and narrow baby boomers, we can guarantee you all right now that we do not possess either the material or the capacity for a long speech, let alone a long, interesting speech.
My mother and father met at university, and the fact that Margaret eventually agreed to marry Ray bears testament to the persistence of a balding man who knew he was running out of time. Oh yes, the wonderful Spring of 1966, a year in which the youth of Australia sought to redefine traditional social norms.
As confident as we are in declaring the sixties a time of sex, drugs and rock n roll, we are all the more confident in saying that our parents definitely, completely, without a shadow of a doubt indulged in none of the three.
Sex? Well okay, maybe four times. Drugs? Somewhat unlikely. Bill Clinton says he didn't inhale. Mum and Dad would not have known that you had to. Indeed, with some degree of hostility, Dad quite regularly informs us that Mum once smoked. Mum's version is that she smoked once, and Dad that caught her - half a cigarette at a university party just over a quarter of a century ago. Rock n Roll? Well we have it on good authority from Mum that she did not indulge in rock and roll citing the fact that "rock and roll was for the bad kids — I jived." Such was the crazy, free, liberating spirit that was sweeping North Balwyn Methodist Church in the 1960s.
One story we were particularly keen to relay to you this afternoon relates to Mum and her uncanny ability to lose the unlosable, a characteristic which I have sadly inherited. The year was l979, the month November. Pippa had been born just one week previous - a beautiful seven pound, blonde, blind bombshell. We were living ln Donvale at the time, and Mum had driven us up to the local shopping district to purchase some groceries. Groceries were duly bought, monies duly paid, and Mum was just loading us into the car, when Mr Migliori came racing out of the fruit shop:
"Mrs Wilson, Mrs Wilson - you've left something behind"
"Oh my god, my purse!"
"No Mrs Wilson, it's your baby!"
And sure enough, Mum had left tiny Pippa in the fruit shop. Her explanation at the time: "I'm just not used to having four".
In 1993, my father and his business partner Vernon wood were driving on a particular interstate highway in the Lake Tahoe region. All was proceeding normally. But then, after ten or so minutes of saying not much., Vern turned to my father and said,
"Shit Ray, do you reckon that river over there is running uphill?
Now science is one of the few realms in which my father does not profess expertise, so he pulled over in the emergency stopping lane, his rationale being that if the water was running uphill, then this was indeed an emergency. Finally Dad spoke:
"Gee Vern, I think you may be right."
They got out of the car, and on a coolish March evening on a Californian interstate, passing motorists got to witness the sight of two grown men, pacing out a river bank, trying to determine its gradient, and whether the river, as they suspected, was running uphill.
Take a suburb like Suney Hills. Or take Ashburton. Or even Merricks. I think we'd all agree that if we had to drive to these places they're all sort of that way ... or right. I have therefore spent much of my adolescence and early adulthood, driving to these places with Mum and wondering how she manages to go right without ever actually making a right hand turn. She has somehow managed to redefine geography, spatial relativism and quite possibly human sensibility by mastering a system of going right ... by turning left. As is the case with most significant breakthroughs, the whole thing occurred through a process of evolution. Out of sheer fear Mum refuses to make most right hand turns, and so to compensate she has developed an extraordinary capacity to turn left. And it says something for the ingenuity of my mother, that we can say with complete confidence that should she take to driving overseas, she will evolve further and devise a system of going left by turning right.
And just to demonstrate that Mum is willing to share the nervousness, it sometimes disturbs us that a necessary part of any road crossing with Mum, even today in our late teens and early twenties, is to accept the hand that is invariably offered. Old habits die hard - or so it would seem.
Moving now to infallibility. The Catholic Church currently subscribes to the Infallability of the Pope doctrine, and it was arguably the existence of this doctrine that led Pope John Paul II, upon falling down the stairs and breaking his leg, to look around sheepishly and say,
"I meant that"
Whilst Dad does not yet think he's infallible, we are predicting that he might arrive at that conclusion within the next five or so years. Take the question of eye-sight. The more observant ones amongst you may have noticed that 20-20 vision isn't a huge player with the four Wilson kids. Sarn is verging on blind, and it basically deteriorates from there. It has always amazed us,that despite the fact that Dad cannot read, write, drive, watch TV, play sport or even use his beloved dictaphone without his glasses on, he still manages to somehow blame his wife, who has stoically performed the role of seeing eye Mum for twenty-three years now, for the genetic stuff-up that blurred our vision. For conveniently enough, Lesley, Mum's sister, has a turned eye - not a badly turned eye, more like a slight sprain, yet enough of a defect to encourage Dad to shift the entire responsibility for our poor-sight away from his side of the family.
The more sportingly minded may have noticed that Chris Matthews, the Tasmanina and West Australian paceman, has decided to retire from first class cricket. Some of you would also be aware that Chris Matthews bowled arguably the worst three over spell in the history of test cricket - it included five wides, and three no-balls. He could fairly be described as struggling with both line and length. Let me draw some sort of analogy there to my mother's golf.
To our wonderful parents, I'd like to say Happy Birthday. Sam stayed at home until she was twenty-three, and the rest of us are securely entrenched here in Fort Wilson for the time being. There are basically two reasons why we see ourselves living here for a disturbingly long time. Firstly, there's no denying that it's not that easy to find yourself an exit in this place. But secondly, living with Mum and Dad is fantastic — because we get to see them every day. They're fun to spend time with, and they pursue every facet of their lives with such energy and gusto, that it encourages us to do the same.
So, as they raise their bats this afternoon to celebrate their respective half centuries, we're pleased to note that Dad has grown into his baldness, and Mum out of the terrible health hurdles she's had to overcome over the last few years. Both look fit and well, and ready for the next fifty. But make sure you treat us well, dear Mum and Dad, for the decline will inevitably start, and for the four of us, it has been a lifelong ambition to get our own back at Mum, and to one day clean her face with a saliva saturated tissue.
Happy Birthday again. Thank you.