20 July 2011, Ararat, Victoria, Australia
Welcome. On behalf of the MacInnes Family I sincerely thank-you for coming to sunny Ararat this afternoon to celebrate the life of my father.
Its circumstances like these that bring you back to places – both physically and in your memory. In this case it’s the Ararat Uniting Church sometime in the mid 1970’s on a Sunday morning with the family -- and few others here today would’ve been present -- sitting somewhere over there. As kids we would be taken out to Sunday School after about 20 minutes but even that seemed an eternity. I used to try to count the bricks in the wall to kill a few moments –- there’s a hint kids when you start to get sick of me. As an elder of the Presbyterian Church, some days it was Ian MacInnes who took up the collection. On one particular day, Dad had finished collecting and for some reason he and Alan Bellis – the other elder collecting on the day - would go and occupy the pew at the very back of the church. Also on this particular day the church had a new and progressive minister who asked the congregation to hold hands while he said a prayer. Dad and Alan were seated alone down the back Now do you think THEY were going to hold hands? -– Dad loved to tell the story –- he looked at Alan and said, ‘People will start to talk…!”
Ian Donald MacInnes was born on the 23rd January, 1929 here in Ararat to Mary and Donald MacInnes of Borreraig – a farm just west of the township of Buangor. We’ll hear a little more of Ian’s mother Mary later. My grandfather, Donald, had migrated from the Isle of Skye after invitation from his uncle who had selected Borreraig well before the turn of the century. Now that’s the 19th century kids. Kids? -- sorry they’re counting bricks! Ian came home to three sisters – Flora, Marion and Doris. His fourth sister Catherine arrived three years later. Mary MacInnes ran a regimented and religious household -- feeding, clothing and educating everyone through the depression years. Donald was a woolgrower and employed local men on Borreraig like the White Brothers. As Ian had no brothers, these blokes taught him how to play footy and barrack for Collingwood. Father Donald from Skye had little interest in football so Ian would walk across the paddocks to Reg Whites on a Saturday afternoon to listen to the footy on the radio -– diligently keeping score with pen and paper.
Growing up in Buangor was all about the open space, the hills, the gum trees, the creeks and the animals. Have look around you if you come out to the Buangor Cemetery this afternoon –- this was Ian’s environment as a kid and right through his life until only recently. It was a classic Australian childhood of the times -– getting up to mischief, rabbiting or taking a horse and buggy five miles south to the Fiery Creek to fish for perch in the late afternoon and eels by the light of the hurricane lamp at night.
He took us kids back there as a father and some of our fondest memories are sitting on the banks of the long waterhole or on the fiery creek near Doug Hopkins Challicum homestead. We would watch the platypus play on the logs late on stormy evenings. You’ve got to have patience to take kids fishing!
Like many people here today, Ian attended Buangor Primary School and then on to Ararat High School where he excelled on many fronts. He was Captain of forms, Captain of House and captain of the cricket and football teams. He made a century for the School and was athletics champion every year. Although he never played, when the time came he picked up a racquet and won the School tennis championship.
As it happened, the Ararat High School girl’s tennis champion was Margaret Burke –- a young lass from Moyston.
As a kid I had some idea that dad was an athlete –- but because of his disability, I’d never seen him run and he was a modest man. If I climbed high enough in the hallway cupboard there was an old leather sports bag. In it were moth eaten red and white woollen football socks, plain brown leather spikes and blue sashes -– like artefacts in a sports museum. It wasn’t until years later in the Buangor Pub I was cornered by Des Brennan and the legendary Brian ‘Muncher’ Moloney who took the time to tell me just what a gifted athlete my father had been.
But it wasn’t all ‘great fellow, well done’ at school. Mum told me the story recently about Ian on the eve of his leaving certificate Physics Exam. He and a mate decided to go to the Astor Cinema, just up the street there, to catch a movie instead of studying for the exam. When the lights came up, who was sitting behind them ….? Mr Crebbins, the Physics teacher.
After high school, Ian was sent off to Dookie Agricultural College near Shepparton. There he honed not only more sporting skills but knowledge of the new agricultural ideas of the day. On his return to Borreraig, he introduced the shearing machine superseding the old hand shears and to his father’s horror, immediately lost some sheep to cold weather due to the new machines leaving less wool on the sheep.
Around this time, Dad had reconnected with Margaret Burke. She was embarking on her teaching career at the Glenthompson Primary School. After a couple of successful dates, Margaret thought she might test Ian’s level of interest and invited him to a dance -– the catch was it was in Glenthompson -– a fair hike from Buangor. Dad showed his hand by driving all the way down in his Ford Prefect, one of the lucky few young men to have wheels in those days, and it would seem, the girl of his dreams from Moyston.
The year was 1949 and the Ararat Football Club had a strong team and was looking for their first flag in 29 years. Ian’s pace and skill made him an ideal wingman and the 20-year-old was getting a senior game among men who could more than hold their own in an era when country football was king and the Wimmera League drew crowds in their thousands.
Come September, the young Ian MacInnes was selected on a wing in Ararat’s Grand Final team against arch rival Stawell. In front of a crowd of 10,000 at the Horsham City Oval, the Rats led at every change and won by six goals. As you could imagine, this town went crazy. Mum tells of the train ride back to Ararat with the whistle blowing for the last few miles, then a reception at the Town Hall with a huge crowd and celebrations into the night.
Life must have seemed pretty good for the young Ian MacInnes but a cruel blow was just around the corner. On a December day that year, Dad was out washing his pride and joy –- the Ford Prefect -- when he was struck down in pain. Polio had its epidemics in those years and Ian was to be one of the unlucky ones to contract the cruel disease. Imagine spending the best part of a year in hospital including your 21st birthday? Imagine being the man I have just described and coming to the realisation that you would never run again. Imagine the courage and determination it takes to pick yourself up after such a blow and live your life - creating the impression to everyone that there’s really nothing wrong at all. These are the defining characteristics of my father and I came to realise this as I became old enough to understand the effort and sacrifice he made to create a wonderful family life for his three children.
But he didn’t do it all on his own. Margaret Burke is a loyal and persistent individual and she stuck by him in his darkest days. A compassionate transfer to teach in Ballarat was arranged for her, where Dad was in hospital, and the love affair between Ian and Margaret remained post-polio.
My Grandfather Donald had died not long after Dad returned home from Dookie and with his mother retiring to Ararat, it was down to Ian to recover and run Borreraig.
In 1952 Dad married Margaret Burke and Ian and Margaret MacInnes began a 59 year partnership. They made a great team, often sharing traditional roles with Dad’s limited physical capacities. Out around the ewes and lambs Mum was a great gate opener – you had to be clever to work most of the old carry-me-back gates – each with a latch system different to the next. I also recall getting home from school and there would be Dad, preparing the evening meal in the kitchen. He got the job done but it was fairly basic.
In 1956 along came first daughter Wendy and in 1958 the arrival of Shona coincided with the building of a brand-new brick veneer home at the corner of the Warrak Road and the Western Highway. This was to be the house where us three kids grew up and the five of us played out the trials and tribulations of family life.
Of these times we have many treasured memories. Some that stand out include:
Easter – crisp autumn mornings out around the ewes and lambs – opening the aforementioned gates and saving ewes and lambs in trouble. It never got too tedious as Dad would always need to return home for a coffee sooner than later. For us kids that would mean bottle feeding lambs and feeding ourselves with hot cross buns and Easter eggs. In more recent years, Ian would get enormous pleasure from watching his nine grandchildren hunting for Easter eggs through the living room window from his chair.
Shearing – this was the business end of the farming calendar and for almost a month around September / October we would be absorbed by Shearing. Ian was a woolgrower who liked to focus on the product. He was not much interested in Machinery – Gordon Allender and Ian MacInnes were at opposite ends of the machinery spectrum. Ian was just interested in the wool and he grew a very good product. In his latter yearsit almost seemed as if each of his thousands of sheep were treated like pets. Shearing was a special time sometimes with a wool classer staying in the sleep out. The familiar smell of lanolin was in the air ( I might be romanticising a bit here – it was really lanolin with a strong dose of sheep shit). The boss of the board was Dad and there’s people here today who worked for my father. He was a good boss who could joke along with the best of them but he had the respect of all and when he wanted something done it always got done! So to those of you out there- too many to name –but you know who you are- who always stepped up when help was needed – and not always on the payroll – On behalf of my family I sincerely thank you now.
Community – by the time I got to Ararat High School my best mate was, and still is, Jim Dunn. His dad, Jim senior, was Mayor of Ararat and, as a kid from the provinces, I thought that was pretty special. But Jim would say to me “but your Dad’s Mayor of Buangor”. What he meant was that Ian MacInnes was heavily involved in the Buangor Community. President of the School Council and the Hall Committee, Captain of the Fire Brigade, Trustee of the Cemetery (planning for today?). He was also Ian MacInnes JP – Justice of the Peace and locals regularly dropped in to get a signature. One of his great regrets was that there never was the Bar room Brawl he’d hoped for at the Buangor Pub – so he could go down wearing his JP badge and ‘read the riot act’. All this community service meant that Dad was out at a meeting every other night. Whenever a prisoner escaped from the Jail, it was always a night Dad would be out at a meeting so it would be my job to go over to the truck to bring the 22 inside.
Dads involvement in the community flowed through to create, with the great work of all the other Buangor families, a group of people who knew each other well and participated in the life of the township. School activities, Dances and Send-Offs at the hall, ladies bring a plate and the men talk outside, the Christmas concerts. We kids loved them all through that endless time known as childhood.
As each of us kids left for the Big Smoke and Boarding School, Ian and Margaret’s nest got emptier and emptier. By 1977 we were all gone. That means they spent longer on their own than they did with us kids but that time was punctuated with visits to town to watch us do School stuff or play sport. But we came home as well, me to work on the farm every holiday and all of us invited our school and uni friends to come up and stay. Many people here today will remember Ian sitting in his chair having a couple of Stubbies while we drank slabs and partied on. He would love to banter with us all or sit on the verandah watching the cricket matches on the back lawn – making disparaging comments about the skills- or lack of them - on display.
We are so pleased that during these years, Mum and Dad were able to travel both around Australia and Europe. In particular he was able to visit Scotland and go to Skye to visit the relatives left behind when Donald emigrated. Dad adored each of his nine grandchildren. They came to stay at Borreraig where Mum could try to educate them even more while Dad urged her to lay off and let them have some fun. It was a time for him to relax, let down his guard and be a real person to them – and they responded with an intense love that sees them naturally grieving for the loss of their beloved Mac . Its just so fitting that they will shortly carry him out for the last time here today.
Twelve years ago I moved to Ballarat to be closer to Mum and Dad to lend a hand as they reached their seventies. The ironic thing is that the older he got the less help he accepted – the ‘I can do this on my own attitude’ that clearly got him through the challenge of polio. But as he approached 80, we noticed Dad mellowing, a tear now and then and revealing his emotions and giving away some of his feelings about his life and those he shared it with.
Mim and Mac were still going around the ewes and lambs only a few years ago when I was relieved that they agreed to retire to Ballarat. On the day Dad left Borreraig he simply got up, walked out and shut the door. He was never one to let sentimentality interfere with what was necessary. It was the last time he walked. When he got to Ballarat he had fall and never walked again. As usual Mum just got on with the business of looking after him and thankfully they had a couple of peaceful and comfortable years of retirement.
Early this year Dads health and mind started to slip. When he went to a nursing home only months ago he hated it – with a passion! Just last week he got a chest infection and died within 72 hours with his family around him. All the clichés apply: good innings, time to go, went quickly.
So we come to the end of the road. On behalf of Wendy, Shona and Margaret I say goodbye Dad. We love you dearly and, best of all we had a bloody great time!