22 March 2018, Parlour, Canberra, Australia
We never thought that Phil would meet some just as wonderful and accomplished as him and when it happened, he and Rach became one hell of a couple, two of the most complementary personalities you’re likely to meet. One is sensitive, emotional, loves romantic dinner dates and dancing around the lounge room singing into a hairbrush. And then there's Rach. The brains of the outfit, Rach’s exacting standards can be witnessed in her leadership role in no less than the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and, even more impressively, when she’s trying to find the most drinkable cab sauv … available at Aldi ... for under $8.
Rach is beautiful, but that's not the point. After introducing her to the family for the first time, Phil took me aside and said ‘Don’t be fooled by the lovely facade, she takes no prisoners when something goes wrong with her restaurant order.’ He was of course exaggerating her no-nonsenseness. Rach is compassionate and thoughtful and generous, a true beauty inside and out.
So where did our power-couple begin? Early in 2012 I got a group email from Phil. It read:
Hi guys. It’s been confirmed that I'm to fly to Canberra on Monday to enjoy a secondment to the Federal Education Department to work on a project of national significance; the implementation of the Gonski Education Review.
To be invited onto this taskforce represents a wonderful opportunity. As I see it, this is recognition of the work I have put in recently to improve myself as a consultant and to develop my knowledge of education policy.
I wrote back:
Dear Phil, You are the biggest geek in the world. Seriously though, congratulations. With you on board, I'm sure Gonski will be done and dusted in no time.
Back then none of us knew that Phil was about to leave Melbourne and begin perhaps the biggest chapter of his life in Canberra. Phil has always been the heart and soul of his family and it was, to me at least, unthinkable that Phil would be more than a bike ride away.
Gonski was a ruse. We now know that Phil's main motivation for relocating to Canberra was to find a life partner who met a number of specific criteria. She had to be an ANU graduate. She had to share his staunchly moderate political views. She had to be able to tour the world if his side-hustle as DJ Beat Taskforce ever took right off. She had to be willing to participate in long-weekend holidays with his family and their partners, and in most instances, single-handedly organise these holidays. She had to be completely agreeable and she had to have naturally voluminous head of hair.
Mission accomplished. And may I say if there were a sister-in-law shop, you would choose Rachel without a moment's hesitation. On literally any subject, Rach is an excellent conversationalist — a veritable Leigh Sales to my Annabelle Crabb. By that I mean she brings the intellectual gravitas and I bring the scones. Rach is super fun. Just ask my Dad, who adored her from their first rollicking chat about Australia’s reporting obligations under ratified international labour standards.
The other day Dad was watching one of his grandkids playing with a plastic shape sorter and he said fondly 'Phil was good at that when he was a baby'. Ugh I thought, and I remembered what it was like growing up with an older brother as smart as Phil, and who brought home straight–A report cards without even trying. Annoying basically. There was no such thing as an enjoyable game of cards between us because Phil is an inveterate mathematician where I am not. Phil would routinely wipe the floor with me. In turn I would accuse him of brazenly cheating by using his memory, strategy and intelligence.
I want to finish with a memory about Phil and hope that it serves as a cautionary tale. Because while Phil was the golden child in our family, excellent at sport, excellent academically, musically gifted, a great storyteller, funny, kind, etc. If/when we hear the pitter-patter of little footsteps, they should know that nobody likes an overachiever. Even God will show his annoyance eventually. Many years ago, something happened at our childhood home which left us questioning what we knew about right and wrong. Not one of us was the same afterwards.
Phil was about 17 and looking after his brother Dan and cousin Ace both 8 or 9. Phil was indoctrinating Dan and Ace on an ancient martial art. Ok they were watching a Jean Claude Van Damme film. Halfway through, Phil paused the VHS and kickboxed his way to the kitchen to cook some hot chips. He peeled and sliced potatoes in perfect lengths and placed a saucepan of vegetable oil on the gas stove.
In the lounge 'No Retreat No Surrender' resumed.
Forty minutes passed. Smoke drifted across the tele. Phil leapt from the couch and hurtled towards the kitchen. It was too late. The range hood and surrounding cupboards were engulfed in flames and fire licked the ceiling. Standing at a safe distance from the fire, Phil looked upon it in shock. Dan and Ace hopped from one foot to the other, exhilarated. Eventually the inferno subsided and the damage was contained. While the smoke was thick throughout the house, one thing was clear. Phil was in deep shit.
A decades–long career as favourite child up in smoke. So sad…
I think he was grounded a week and Mum got the shiny new kitchen she always wanted so order was restored to the universe pretty quickly.
On that incendiary note I ask that you charge your glasses for a toast. To our dear Phil and Rach. Thank you for inviting us all to be here on this special day. I hope the story of your lives together is a long one full of laughter and adventure and frequent trips to Melbourne. May your smoke alarm batteries be strong. May you continue to provide the stability that is the bedrock of your relationship and may your love and admiration for each other remain as true as it is today.