1 June 2018, Melbourne, Australia
89 years ago, in I928, the year that Dad was born, the 29th Eucharistic Congress was conducted in Sydney – and the patron saint of the Eucharistic Congress is Paschal Baylon – so, in his honour, Dad’s mum and dad – Winifred and John, named the new little bundle of joy – Baylon. (And also because they wanted him to be a good fighter).
As a matter of interest, St Paschal Baylon’s father’s name - was Martin Baylon – same as my youngest brother - Marty!
That Baylon family lived in north- eastern Spain in the 16th century. And North- eastern Spain is an exquisitely beautiful area that I’ve had the great fortune to walk through.
Dad was to become a good fighter. He needed to be because he arrived on this earth as the Great Depression emerged.
Lightly built, of Irish Catholic heritage, Dad wasn’t a big man, but he was a big character, and he lived a big life.
He was born in a place called Rainbow, in the Mallee wheat growing region, about 400 kms NW of Melbourne.
By the time he was three, he looked a lot like his third son, Terry – and there are pictures to prove it. You’ll see them a bit later.
Dad was the youngest of 5 children – the others were Jack, Anna, Win and Marg. The family eventually settled in Bendigo, which is still there today.
Dad had the usual boyhood adventures - like being apprehended by the police for using a slingshot to shoot birds on the banks of Lake Weeroona, playing footy and cricket, and looking for gold in the nearby diggings with his friend - Ned Kelly.
But most of the time he stayed out of trouble and was a good, conscientious son, studying, chopping the wood, fetching the shopping and so on. There wasn’t much money around, and I suppose he learnt in those years the value of money, and how to make it go a long way, and sometimes just to do without it.
He was educated by the nuns at St Killian’s Primary and the Bendigo Marist Brothers, and graduated to receive his Leaving Certificate.
When he was 13, Dad’s mother died. This was, of course, very sad and difficult for Dad and his family – to lose your mum at such a young age. But as families do, they supported each other through these hard times.
When he was 17, Dad left school and came to live in Melbourne. He got a job as an apprentice telephone technician at the Postmaster Generals’ Department. (the PMG as it was known, and what was to become Telstra). This was 1945, the year the 2nd world war ended.
He started out living in a hostel in Brunswick, St Don Bosco, and played football for the Richmond Young Catholic Workers - where he met John Dickinson - who was going out with young June Monagle – Mum’s elder sister. Johnny introduced Bayley to a pretty 16 year old Bonny Monagle, my mum. They married at St Ignatius Church in Richmond in September 1955 - and the rest, is history.
Dad was idealistic, a man of ethics and practical, and got involved in union politics. His grandfather, Simeon Ryan, had been mayor of Bendigo in 1901, and had earlier done some arbitration work himself.
Dad’s Irish Catholic background, and his sense of social justice, put him firmly on the side of the underdog. And while he had respect for, and practised adherence to legitimate authority, if he saw corruption or abuse of that authority, he would call it out.
Subsequently, at the age of 25, he was offered and took, the job as secretary of the Northern Australian Workers Union, and moved to Darwin.
Not only did he perform that rather large role, but simultaneously he was editor of the union newspaper - the Northern Standard - until the secretary role proved too big to accommodate both.
The paper folded (no pun intended) but not before Dad did a deal with the Northern Territory Times (who had inferior printing presses). The deal was that they could use the presses, but they must publish anything the union wanted – unedited. Of course they agreed.
Anyone who knew Dad, knows that he was tough, and uncompromising if it really mattered.
So this stood him in good stead when he took the job in Darwin, where he presided over some wild and spirited union meetings.
He once needed his good - and burly - friend, Billy Ivinson, to protect him at a union meeting where a branch stacking had been arranged, after 2 boatloads of merchant sailors were brought in by the opposite faction – essentially hired thugs- to attempt to disrupt the proceedings. He came away successful and unscathed, and Billy remained his lifelong friend.
During this time, he had some big battles and conducted some ground-breaking workers’ rights campaigns – in particular, he created the first ever award for pearl divers.
He once had an encounter with Gough Whitlam who of course, went on to become Prime Minister. Dad was Labor, and right wing. Gough was Labor, but left wing. Gough sneered a one liner at Dad – ‘So, the lion meets the lamb’. But Dad being Dad - never considered himself the lamb. Nor did anyone who actually knew him.
The fight in those days amongst the unions was between the communists - and the others. But Dad reported that despite strong ideological differences, everyone really wanted the same goal – a better deal for workers. So to that end, there was often mutual respect across the political spectrum.
Around that time, Dad was also encouraged as a union leader to apply to represent Australia at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Conference in Canada. He was beaten on that occasion by Bob Hawke.
The Melbourne evening paper of the time ‘The Herald’ wrote a page two story on Dad in 1955, when he was just 27 years old – saying how he wasn’t very big in stature but he was big in tenacity and courage. You might not always agree with Dad- but you wouldn’t disagree with that statement.
I recently came across the Jewish expression, tikkun olam
In Judaism, the expression was first used to refer to social action work, in the 1950s.
Simply put, it means that the world is somewhat broken, and it is our job, all of us, to try to fix it.
I'm not sure Dad knew that expression, but he practised tikkun olam his entire life.
After they were married, Mum went with Dad back to Darwin and pursued her study of tropical weather patterns and gecko behaviour. Maybe, probably not.
It wasn’t long until they got news that their first child, Paula, was on her way, and that she wouldn’t like the thick, Darwin heat.
So Mum moved back to Melbourne - to a cool 1956 August where Paula could start saving for the first of many electric blankets she would eventually own.
Mum and Dad went on to live in Adelaide and Port Pirie in South Australia, where they did some of their finest work, producing the next 3 boys.
They then moved back to Melbourne, in fact Richmond, with Mum’s parents – who we called Nan and Pa.
And in late 1963, the family of Mum, Dad and five kids, moved to a white, weatherboard house in a quiet street in Greensborough and started the small religious cult known as the Ryan family. Dad was a parishioner at St Mary’s for 52 years.
As cults do, the group grew steadily - to 12, a good biblical number -:2 adults and 10 lively, but mostly well behaved kids, arriving over a period of 19 years.
Ten children, 26 grand-children and 3 great grandchildren later, here we are.
Dad did a few funny things over the years – and not always on purpose.
Some of the transport arrangements we had growing up were very interesting.
We never owned a car, but Dad always had a work car.
For a time, the 3 oldest boys – myself, John and Terry - travelled in the back of a Holden ute (white knuckled - through rain, hail and shine). And of course, St Christopher was there with us too, also hanging on for dear life.
On the car trips, we learned our first swearwords –For example catchy questions like –“What do you think you’re doing - you bloody idiot?!”
Mind you, it was never much worse than that, but sometimes Dad was swearing at the people inside the car.
Dad also conducted tutorials like how to spit, whistle and kick a football, without swearing. Actually, we taught ourselves how to spit.
A particularly interesting vehicle was a van we had for a short time – that sometimes needed to be cranked - with a thing called a crank handle - to get it started. This van had no windows in the back and came with some seating challenges -i.e. -it had none.
For one Bendigo trip, Dad got a wicker chair and lashed it with rope into the middle of the back of the van, so Mum could sit there like the queen, and imagine the scenery going past for 2 hours as the old van rumbled up the highway - north to Bendigo.
In the early days, photography and Dad was a fleeting and tenuous connection.
Dad had an old Brownie camera that came out of the hall drawer without fail every time one of the kids made their first communion.
It was one or two photos at the most, and if you happened to be scratching your groin - as he said ‘cheese’, you were immortalized forever, as a nine year old, groin-scratching, short pants wearing, gap-toothed boy with a bad haircut, looking the wrong way – even if you were one of the girls.
As a result, needless to say, there’s little photographic evidence of the early goings on - of the aforementioned Ryan Family cult.
Later, when Mum and Dad were able to go on a well deserved holiday to the US and Europe, he became an avid photographer, and carefully annotated nearly every photo he took, with descriptive notes and fond quips about Mum, the love of his life.
I won’t mention too much more about secret cult business but– there was one all-male occasion - after returning from our one and only fishing trip to Jamieson.
We got home early from this Easter time outing, because we didn’t know how to camp - and just couldn’t sleep in the car another night.
So to do a little male bonding -Dad, 43, John, 12, Terry 10 and me, 13 - all sat around in our pyjamas, smoking pipes - with our hair neatly combed - in a quiet house, without any girls or babies around.
Another interesting behaviour of Dad’s - was when - us oldies were young and courting, and late night, we’d be sitting having a quiet cuddle in the lounge room, and Dad would come out from his bedroom wearing only his white Y-front undies and go to the kitchen and drink a cold glass of milk, then return to bed - without saying a word.
This was scary, and clever on his part. And it was the only time I ever saw him: 1. in his undies and 2. drinking milk.
Football played a huge part in Dad’s life. In the ‘60s, he drilled us kids on 2 things - learning the rosary off by heart, and reciting the name of the Collingwood coach at the time: Bobby Rose.
As I mentioned earlier, Dad was a keen footballer himself, and later in his career, played on the gravel grounds of Darwin. He hung up his boots after kicking 5 goals in his final match.
However, his direct involvement as a passionate fan and volunteer in VFL and AFL football, spanned 26 years and 572 games – that’s his amazing record keeping.
12 of those years were devoted to Collingwood. For 9 years he scoured the Collingwood recruiting zone, much of which was in the Diamond Valley.
Among many, his star recruit was Peter Moore from Eltham, who went on to win the Brownlow medal twice.
The next 3 years he was a forward scout - analyzing the performance of the team Collingwood was to play the next week.
And like everything he did, the analysis in his detailed report was insightful and obviously useful to the coach. At Collingwood, he assisted Tommy Hafey. He liked Tommy – they were contemporaries, and Tommy asked him to continue aiding him when he was sacked from Collingwood mid-season in 1982, and moved to Geelong in 1983.
Dad agreed, and followed Hafey to Geelong, and stayed for the next 14 years, serving a number of coaches. His favourite was Malcolm Blight. Malcolm had been a champion footballer and Brownlow medallist.
He was intelligent, articulate and friendly. Dad was delighted to be invited to dine with Malcolm on one occasion, and I think the highlight of his football career was being flown to Perth, in his role as forward scout, during the finals one year.
Mum went with Dad to many of these games, and it became an enjoyable regular outing for both of them.
Lots of things happen in a big family over many years - many funny and happy, some difficult and sad – but the family held together because it was built on a strong foundation.
Dad loved all his grandchildren, but I want to make special mention of Dad’s second grandchild, Julian, to whom he was particularly devoted, and with whom he was very tender and loving. Jules had a condition that prevented him from speaking and voluntary movement, and passed away after 9 years.
Dad was a true patriarch of this big family. His passing brings the end of an era for us.
It’s a family that’s strong and close and that, I know, was always Dad’s intention.
He worked very hard, and reached the top of his profession at a national level, selling and marketing electrical goods–and for many years worked 2 jobs - to feed, clothe and educate us all. He and our beautiful Mum taught us to value people - not wealth and possessions. Dad never really owned much himself. He just wasn’t interested. The things he valued, you can’t buy.
Dad gave to the community.
He was a Justice of the Peace for 30 years from 1976.
He served on various school and parish committees.
He was a zone representative for Neighbourhood Watch for 18 years.
In his retirement, he spent a lot of time volunteering for older, frail people at Villa Maria – 14 years in fact.
He also volunteered at the Anti-Cancer Council shop in Carlton, and for 10 years was on an ecumenical committee of local Christian churches that organized the community Christmas carols.
Privately, he contributed to charities for years, and was very generous to individuals or families who needed financial assistance.
He was acknowledged for his contribution to the community with an Australia Day Awards certificate of appreciation in 2007.
He spent many years irritating - and sometimes praising - politicians -with regular letters and later faxes to Canberra and Spring St, trying to keep the so-and-sos honest.
He was devoted to his faith and he prayed for us all – all the time. His love of family was strong and obvious to everyone. He was our protector.
Growing up, you always felt safe with Dad at your side - even as a young adult.
On one occasion, I was getting my car brakes assessed, and the mechanic at this garage said it was going to cost a small fortune – which I didn’t have - to do the repairs. And by the way, all the wheels were off and the brakes had been dismantled.
Dad told me to tell them - not to go ahead - to put everything back together- and that I was coming to get the car.
He came with me when I collected the car, and stood quietly, but menacingly, in the background, and silently gave them the message that they shouldn’t even think about getting heavy or trying to extort money from me. And he didn’t have a plan B.
I never saw Dad back down from a battle – even though maybe, very occasionally, that may have been the better option.
There are just too many stories, and too many things to say about Dad.
How can you do justice to a life in just a few minutes?
Dad cared about people.
He loved his family deeply, and he tried his best - to fix the world - where he could, the best way he knew how.
Thank you Dad - for looking after us and loving us.
We love you, and we know that you are now, and forever, in God’s love.