Tales from the Podium

Reviewing a whole life in a funeral celebration leads to many fascinating stories. I’ll be constantly updating this with written and audio posts as the tales of joy, pain, achievement and more get told across the podium.

The following stories are reproduced with permission, although some families have asked for the names to be changed.

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Scott suffered from a condition that everyone knew would dramatically shorten his life. He led a full and active life, but occasionally took a turn for the worse. So one day when his golf mates saw him slumped over in the buggy, they assumed the worst and ran to him. But on the way they realised that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation may be necessary, and being Aussie blokes, no one wanted to seem too eager to be the one to press their lips against their friend’s to give the kiss of life. And yet, the deed may be necessary. So in the few seconds that it took to reach their dying friend, in perfect seriousness, the following pact was made. One amongst them agreed that it would be him who would put breath into his friend’s lungs, on the condition that if Scott died, the dead man’s putter would be his. All agreed before they’d made it to the buggy. On arrival, Scott sprung back to life, saw all the kerfuffle and told them all to get lost.

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A holiday moment I won’t forget was in Murramarang Resort near Batemans Bay. Dad and Eren gave ocean fishing off the beach a go. Dad was a keen fresh water river fisherman, but he didn’t have all that much experience with the ocean. After a day of catching nothing, he thought that if he couldn’t catch anything, he could at least enjoy a ruse. So Eren and Dad went down to the local fish market to buy the biggest fish they could find. Early the next morning they attached it to their line, tossed it out into the ocean and then waited for a few more people to come along for a morning catch. Then they began to pull and struggle as they reeled their monster in. Onlookers stared with open jaws … and the next morning the beach was lined with punters, hoping to catch a giant fish of their own.

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Barry was one of 10 children, but the order of his siblings’ birth was challenging for a lively lad such as he. First came three older sisters, then a very quiet older brother, then two younger sisters. Needless to say, Barry was champing at the bit for a partner in crime once John came along. Soon, Barry & John were well known as a dangerous duo! For example, there were many market gardens in the area, which led to an abundance of wildlife. One day, the terrible two caught a rat and decided to set fire to it – very amusing … until the poor flaming critter scurried under their weatherboard house. Before anyone found out, the boys managed to avert a crisis and had to settle for spinning cats on the clothes line.

Barry grew up and found he was skilled at charming the ladies, as naughty boys often are. He worked with Sandra and Cupid’s arrow struck. Of course, this didn’t stop him from taunting her as well. For example, when Sandra was on the factory floor inspecting fridges, she occasionally opened a door to find one of the boys squatting inside, who’d leap out and scare the willies out of her. To add insult to injury, everyone working on the lines nearby would be wise to it and eagerly awaiting her terrified scream.

Barry took any opportunity to joke around. For example, at a family gathering, he might disappear for a while and emerge sporting swimmers, a tea cosy on his head and serviettes in his ears. He also regularly got creative with chopsticks at Asian restaurants. They’d end up in his ears, mouth or nose – “I’m a Walrus!” he’d snigger. This gave his family and friends a laugh at first, increasingly less as the years went on and the jest remained the same, but the tears of laughter did indeed come when Barry once inserted his chopsticks with too much gusto and gave himself a blood nose.

Barry remained a charmer to the end. In his final days, the hospital staff came to love him, as so many had before. So when the power suddenly went out one day, in a flash there were six nurses at Barry’s bedside. The patient across the way exclaimed, “Well, we know who’s getting the best care here!”

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Norm enjoyed riding his bike with the local motorcycle club, as he enjoyed telling the story of being with his club mates at the movies for the Release of The Wild One. One of the boys even went to the effort of dressing up as Johnny Strabler, played by Marlon Brando. Things were going well for “Johnny”, so he furrowed his brow, gave the ladies a spellbinding glance, revved his gleaming machine and took off … only to discover all too painfully that his bike was still chained up!

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Fred lived in London during the trials of World War II. Perhaps it’s hard for many of us to comprehend that the bombing blitzes were so frequent that he and Queenie could get so fed up with going down to their bomb shelter that one night they stayed in bed. They soon heard the whistle of a bomb descending and wondered whether these would be their last moments on earth. They put the blankets over their heads (knowing that blankets are the most effective shield against exploding missiles) and then heard the explosion. The bomb had landed on their bomb shelter.

So with renewed faith that he and Queenie had something of worth to do in the world, a decade after the war finished, Fred found work as a skilled migrant and the family set sail on the long journey to Australia by sea in search of a better life. Many promises were made. They were told they’d have family cabins on the ship, but the men were separated and Fred spent six weeks feeling sick in the bilges. They were told they’d have an overnight family sleeper on the train to Adelaide, but there weren’t even enough seats, so the men took it in turns walking the halls. They arrived at migrant huts at Finsbury Hostel to discover that the floors were nothing but dirt, prompting Fred to wonder, “What have I done?”

But there was no turning back, so they decided to make a go of it. Despite having a badly damaged toe from an earlier workplace accident, Fred walked miles to work with his wooden toolbox over his shoulder. Soon he’d saved enough to get a bicycle. Then after 2½ years he’d saved enough for a house deposit and the family built their modest two-bedroom home on the banks of the Torrens River.

There, Fred dedicated himself to the wellbeing of his family and the new community around him. If a neighbour needed help, Fred was always there in a flash. This country had taken him in and he spent the rest of his life giving back to it.

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