30 April, 1992, Kew, Melbourne, Australia
I first met my sister Samantha at the Mercy Hospital on the 2nd of November l972. I was two days old. Right from that first meeting in the maternity ward, we had a special bond. As we gazed into each other's eyes only we realised we couldn't actually see each other. Only we knew we'd both still have dribbling problems a couple of decades later, and our first joke together was some sophisticated little gag about how much Mum and Dad were going to have to spend on suncream. Sam was round —very round and very, very white. Indeed there has probably never been a closer human, toddling equivalent to a white chocolate Lindt ball.
Time rolled on, and Sam rolled with it. The Lindt-ball grew hair and spawned glasses. Eventually she began to say words, words that she would so hideously misspell over the years to come. Words like "eat", "dog" and "lolly". In 1988 Sam tried to order a pizza for the family and proclaimed after 20 minutes of frantic searching that Dial- a- Dino's was not in the phone directory. Pippa, eight years old and a little perplexed by her big sister's proclamation eventually had to inform her that you do not spell "dial" d-i-l-e.
By 1977 Sam and I both had imaginary friends. Mine was called Nini and her's Durrell. We played as a foursome, and Sam was always particularly keen to include Durrell in her extended jigsaw games. We suspect now that Durrell was there to see the pieces. He may very well have been the first seeing-eye imaginary friend.
Sam's honeymoon with the education system began at Mitcham Primary in 1976. By Grade 3 Sam had a friend. Her name was Melissa, and she had lice. Sam idolised Melissa and figured that if lice were good enough for Melissa, they were damn well good enough for her too. But although she wanted desperately to have lice, she wasn't all that keen on some of the lice-related perks. An itchy scalp, for example. And so she simply told Mum that the government scalp checker at school had informed her she had lice. Mum hit the roof. As a parent, it one of those great firsts. Your first lice infested child must certainly be up there with the first time your child cleans his or her face without the aid of a saliva saturated tissue or the first time your son washes his own sheets. Anyway, we were all thoroughly disinfected for a few days until Sam owned up. Mum, trying desperately to be the New Age Renaissance parent asked Sam why she had pretended her head was a parasite nest. Sam's answer was simple. "Everything always happens to Melissa". And it moved me to see my big sister retire her hairbrush that very day and vow to never, ever use it again.
I've always believed you can tell a great deal about the future of a child by the activities they engage in early on. I mean it was obvious the way she bashed her poor, defenceless and infinitely smaller siblings that she would end up studying the ins and outs of pain. And a childhood over-sensitivity to hot drinks could help explain her love affair with drinks of the somewhat cooler variety. As for everything in this world that Sam is inept, inadequate and hopeless at, they can be explained by her stamp collecting. Sam was an awful stamp collector evidenced simply by the fact she collected awful stamps. In Brazil, Australian stamps portraying the Queen's profile might be considered pretty exiting, but in sunny Balwyn they don't tend to raise too many eyebrows. Sam's assembly of so many royal heads in the one place is only likely to have been matched by Paul Keating's childhood dartboard.
And finally to courtship. Sam has been lucky enough not to turn out quite as romantically dyslexic as she first appeared. CH, JC, AR, GB and LB each had their stint as Sammy's man. My brother Ned and my sister Pippa were very keen that I tell one particular story tonight, even if I told no other, and that story relates to Landon Roberts. Pippa, for some reason seemed almost hysterically-keen. Landon was staying at Merricks with the family and had joined in a family game of backyard cricket.
Being great admirers of competitive spirit, I remember the family being pretty impressed by his competitive spirit. After a long energy sapping day in the field, Pippa finally had the opportunity to wield the willow herself. Now it must be understood that any blind jokes used here tonight are in fact mere warm ups for the ones that are going to be rolled out for my little sister's 2lst. Bearing that in mind, it is easy to understand the fact that Pippa had never, ever hit the ball. That was until the fateful thirteenth ball of Dad’s fourth over, the first delivery she faced, when she hit the most glorious cover drive ever to race across the hallowed turf of 8 Wave St Merricks. It seemed inevitable that the chewed up old tennis ball would spank into next door's tank for a historic boundary. Pippa barely bothered to run. In retrospect, it was a terrible decision. For somewhere, deep in the murky shadows lurked Landon "Tiger" Roberts, who dived three and a half metres to his left to pick up the ball, hurl it in the same motion and hit the one stump on offer. I remember being sent to comfort my crying sister some hours later, and could say little more to her than, "Cricket Pip —It's a funny game."
Unfortunately there was one occasion on which my observation of Sam's handling of the opposite sex got a little too close. The story is a little embarrassing so I'd appreciate it if it didn't go any further than the one hundred and forty of you here tonight. Again the location was Merricks Beach, the date, New Year's Eve 1988. In those days, Merricks was grope-wise, just about the place to be at New Year. At about 11 o'clock I saw an attractive blond girl stumbling across the foreshore towards me."Hello, how are you?" I inquired.
"Alright," she replied. "Where you from?" I asked.
"Where do you reckon, idiot?" she said scornfully.
This struck me as a little rude but hey, others had been ruder. "What's your name then?"
"Sam you dickhead," she replied.
Harsh, but hey, others had been harsher, and here was my opening. "Gee, I've got a sister called Sam," I said.
She placed her head in her hands and said nothing. Things were getting desperate. "Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" Sam took my hand. Ah now I was getting somewhere. "Yes, you have seen me before. My name is Sam, I first met you at the Mercy Hospital when you were two days old and if you don't piss off and leave me alone I'm telling Mum you made Ned do the dishes tonight ... So now you can see why I incested, I mean insisted before that the story be kept amongst ourselves.
Look it was dark, okay? And I’ve got terrible eyesight! And I’d been drinking Kalua and milk out of a shampoo bottle.
Twenty first speeches often do not capture the true essence of a person and I fear I've not given the adoration the family feel for Sam enough emphasis. Why without Sam, Ned would have to watch Supermarket Sweep by himself. Dad needs to have Sam's table manners on diplay to take some of the heat off his hiccupping. But basically we like to have her around for the same reason most people like to have her around. Because she's friendly, funny, delightfully vague and considerate of all those she comes across. I have to admit, as I nodded off on my first day of existence in that Maternity ward in 1972, dry at last and thinking the world was pretty damn good. Little did I know that the next day I'd meet my big sister, and it would be looking even better.