Life: Vale Uncle Ado, butcher, battler, family man, Australian

By Andrew Starkie

My dad, Joe, is like the You Yangs: back from the road, strong, always there.  He looked like Tom Jones before Tom had the work done.  Joe turned 67 on Thursday, the day we buried his elder brother, Adrian.

Uncle Ado was a few years older, but had been an old man for a long time.  Heart and family had kept him alive.

The funeral was in Hamilton.  On Thursday morning, I drove westward from Melbourne and thought of the work I’d left behind and the work that would be waiting on my return.

Thankfully, some perspective found me on the journey.  I recalled Christmas and summer on Warrnambool beach.  Uncle Ado, smiling quietly in the background.  I thought of the mad dashes Joe made to Ado’s hospital bed in the last few weeks as he held onto life.

Beyond Ballarat, I entered tiny, eucalyptus valleys and old goldmining towns with bluestone pubs and wooden cottages.  A crisp morning was warming and coming alive.

In the flat Western district farming land, green paddocks, relieved by recent rain, ran away to the base of the Grampians that rose like breakers on the shore.  The dams and creeks were full.

I had a pitstop at the Lions Park in Glenthompson.  Across the road, Ado’s old butcher shop stands empty, as does the cafe next door.  The weatherboard post office was quiet and the curtains drawn.  Glen is a bit of a ghost town now.  The local pool looked a bit neglected and only the servo was doing any business.

I arrived in Hamilton an hour early and parked opposite the Uniting Church.  As I do when I visit an unfamiliar town, I walked up to the local footy ground for a look.  Arch rivals Hamilton Imperials and Hamilton are co-tenants.  Imps are working class, Hamilton rich.  A silver-haired farmer in overalls drove by in a rattling ute.  School kids, unsupervised and safe, strolled to the main drag to buy lunch.

I ran into Mum and Dad.  I wished the old man happy birthday. It seemed inappropriate.  Won’t forget this one, I said.  Nope, he replied.  Other family and mourners gathered and exchanged hushed handshakes and kisses.  We entered the church to Sinatra’s My Way.

Ado’s son, Nick, and Joe delivered the eulogy.  Joe spoke of the early years in Terang.  My grandfather put his three teenage boys to work in the butcher shop.  Ado rolled the meat van.  He got his own wheels and when he started keeping it extra clean, the rest of the family new something was up – aunty Marion had arrived on the scene.  Ado ran off scratch in a red singlet in the 75 yards dash at Stawell.  He was a dedicated volunteer fire fighter.

Joe told Ado that the gates of heaven were open and his parents and late younger sister, Carmel, were waiting for him.  Dad shook, broke down and hid behind the tall bouquet of flowers at the rear of the alter.  When he emerged, he looked old and tired and I realised I still had so much to learn about this man, my father.

My cousin, Nick, looks like a plump, bush jockey.  I love his earthiness and honesty. He talked of the Glenthompson years, when Ado would break up a side of beef for a local farmer in exchange for a few beers and a chat.  The cricket or footy would be on the radio in the background.  Ado was made a life member at the Glen footy club.  When Nick and his sister, Louise, grew up and moved away, Ado and Marion sold up and moved into Hamilton.  Local community and sporting clubs made a fuss and gave them a send-off.

Louise delivered a whispered prayer.  She recalled getting off the school bus and rushing to the butcher shop for a slice of Strasbourg ham.  I miss you already, Dad, she ended.

Aunt Marion, stoic and controlled, sobbed quietly.

Louise’s husband, Kevin, delivered an Australian version of Psalm 23: He keeps me from straying from the mob …

Reverend Peter led the congregation in I am Australian.

I’m a bushy, I’m a battler, I am Australian, became …

I’m a bushy, I’m a butcher, I am Australian.

Aunt Marie, pushing ninety, sang away.

As the coffin was loaded into the hearse, Ado’s grandkids released red and black balloons and Essendon’s theme song was played.

At the cemetery, Joe tripped and almost fell into the grave.  Always the attention seeker, we all joked later.

Afterwards everyone gathered at the bowls club.  The atmosphere lifted and old friends and relatives caught up.  Jelly slice and sandwiches were served and the urn steamed away in a corner.  A portrait of a very young Queen Elizabeth II hung above the wall heater.  You had to pay for your beer.

Loiuse was relieved the worst of it was over, and Nick and Kevin settled in for the arvo.  Nick, a Kangaroo, whispered, we’ve got five picks in the top 40.  We’ll be right next year.  We should’ve chased Bradshaw, I replied.

I started back for Melbourne late in the day.  Lake Bolac is shrinking into black mud.  The water’s edge is a good walk from the rusted skeleton of a diving board that once entertained hollering, sunburnt kids on hot Western District days when the north wind tore by.  Near Ballarat, locals sat out the front of a bluestone pub, enjoying a beer and watching the sun go down.  Smoke rose from cottage chimneys.  Life ends but also goes on.

Comments

  1. Andrew – very nice piece of work I reckon. I’ve always felt that a funeral is a time of great reflection for those of us left behind, not just about the deceased but about how we are travelling too. Can be very confronting.

    About a week back I went to a funeral for an ex neighbour of mine. He was a very happy and friendly Irishman who enjoyed an ale. He went too young at only 55. But in the eulogy one of his mates quoted one of this blokes favourite sayings. I think I’ve got it right:

    “If you like me, you like me and that’s good.
    If you don’t like me, you don’t like me,
    And I live in hope that God can turn you towards me,
    But if God cannot turn you, I hope he turns your ankle,
    Then I’ll know why you limp.”

    The whole church congregation pissed themselves.

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    Thanks Dips. Yep, funerals are good for putting the focus back on life. They’re very grounding.

    Typically, Irish verse that one.

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