1 April 2017, South Yarra, Melbourne, Australia
Rosie [sister] suggested I give a speech today; the challenge of course with a 70th birthday is to avoid it sounding like a eulogy, but it is my privilege and honour to be able to say a few words about Mum and Dad on behalf of the three of us.
Dad is the embodiment of the word ‘uxorious’. We grew up in the absolute knowledge that Mum was without fault, incredibly beautiful, and always right. As a feminist, this was excellent. As a teenager trying to negotiate an arrangement, not so good.
As you know, Mum and Dad had a wonderful year in France together in 2008. Rosie and I still laugh about it. She, pregnant, me, travelling with two small children, hauling ourselves across the world for the special moment of sharing Mum and Dad’s great Lyonnaise adventure. Mum, in her beautiful way, had planned things for us to do to show us their life, and Dad, well, he just felt we’d crashed their party. We tried not to take it personally! As Rosie said – it’s the love story of when the dawdler met the power-walker.
As a role model, Mum has been exceptional: she has shown us moderation in all things, that work provides a sense of purpose and engagement, that regular sport with friends is social and fun, that planning trips is half the fun of them, and that one’s voluntary social contribution can also reflect our interests. And that getting out of bed before 8am is overrated.
Dad, by his example, has shown us that we are the beneficiaries of great fortune. He shows kindness to all and an enormous empathy for those who are less fortunate than we are. His social conscience found its outlet in his medical practice in Footscray. He was able to reconcile the time he spent at Number 36 Collins Street with the stories of people making their way in Australia. Dad can say “shoulder” in I don’t know how many languages, and is adored by his patients and colleagues alike.
Dad and Mum complement each other so well, as I’m sure many of you know. Mum loves Dad for his kindness and compassion, although she can sometimes grumble about those traits too (don’t get Mum started on Dad’s ability to get ripped off by the guy in JB Hi Fi). Dad loves Mum for her level headed, calm grace, and she is and always will be his safe harbour and his greatest love, even more, much more, than the books, and the computer.
For some couples, once their children leave home they find they have nothing to say to each other. For Mum and Dad, this has not been the case, and after 45 years of marriage they seem happier than ever.
We lead our own lives knowing that Mum and Dad are not stuck at home polishing their OAMs and playing sodoku. They’re rushing from choir to ADFAS to tennis to panels to the RMTC or the Club or bridge.
While we talk about the power of love, mention must go to the newest member of the family, Jacko. In a rare moment of child-directed activity, we had bought a dog for Mum and Dad – Ben collected the pup Jacko on his way back from a job in Queensland, and presented it to them – the tiny Jack Russell puppy began enthusiastically untying Dad’s shoelaces. It was not well received. You may recall Dad’s derision. The principal problem seemed to be getting under Dad’s feet, something we were all quite familiar with. The years passed, and one day Rosie suggested that Jacko might like to come and live with them in America. “Wonderful!” said Dad. And it was only at the very real prospect of losing his little, biddable, shaggy white companion that it dawned on Dad how much he loved Jacko. Not a cross word has been said since.
We are especially indebted to Jo Ingram – because it was at her 21st birthday party that Mum and Dad met, but mostly because she has Jacko for special sleepovers every time they go away.
A post-script to this tale: Dad persists in calling Jacko “Rusty”, something that luckily Jacko seems to take in his stride. Amongst the many reasons we would never want Dad to be a widower, one is that any new companion would have to get used to being called Caroline – a lot.
But what a comfort it is that things don’t change too much. Mum and Dad are not the type to reinvent themselves – why would they? The red nail polish is as unchanging as the corduroy trousers; he has been asked “How long have you had those trousers Granddad?”. The Yalumba dry white cask may have given way to the Hardy’s Sir James and now the Saint Hilaire, but otherwise things are reassuringly familiar. Their response to anyone planning an adventure holiday is “what’s wrong with ten days in Paris?”.
We love to see them settled here, in this new home – a little bit Bromby Street, but fresh and comfortable and new. As with all things, Mum reflects only on the positive of the moment now, not the stress and challenges along the way. This positivity is probably one of the qualities you admire in Mum. I often think of the maxim attributed to Benjamin Disraeli – “never complain, never explain”. My generation does a fair bit of both, but it sums up Mum to a tee – Cazza “No Regrets” Travers.
Sadly, neither Mum nor Dad had parents in-law themselves; but Paul and Lach have each reflected on their great kindness and solicitude.
As grandparents, Mum and Dad are of the old school. Dad amusing the children with anecdotes and witticisms, and they often quote him: “I usually have muesli”. He can be found wrapping ankles in bandages, playing backgammon, or helping with homework. Mum thinks of excursions, plays card games with a competitive streak and is big on manners. She’s been on a lot of rides at the Melbourne Show and takes pride in her ability to still bounce on the trampoline. They have visited us in every place we’ve lived – Lake Como proving slightly more appealing that Darwin.
One of my favourite things is to watch Kitty and Mum in a discussion about something; two strong women putting their own idea out there and letting the other one take it or leave it. Usually this results in a stalemate with neither one compromising, wearing matching gimlet-eyed expressions of cool. Hattie looks like she’s cut from the same cloth.
Thank you Mum, for making us wear suncream, thank you Dad, for never letting us skip breakfast (or get tattoos). Rosie, Ben and I are thrilled to be here, we were lucky in the lottery of birth and remain filled with gratitude for everything you’ve done for us, and the people you are. Now I’d like to propose a toast to Richard and Caroline.