Thanks Dad – RIP Bern Croker
Dad, Bern was a humble, self-effacing man, not comfortable with being the centre of attention. However it is necessary to understand some of his upbringing and background to appreciate what sort of person he was.
Thomas Bernard Croker was born on 25th October, 1922 in Port Melbourne the second of two boys. His father Jack was a marine engineer, driving dredgers and tug boats on Port Phillip Bay. Jack had come down from Charlton in Central Victoria at the start of the 1st World War. Our great great grandfather had come to the colonies in 1853 from Cork in Ireland.
Dad’s mother Margaret Grace, or Madge was from a local Irish Catholic family which had resided in the Port Melbourne area since migrating from Tipperary in Ireland in the 1880’s. Dad has named after his maternal grandfather Thomas Bernard Grace.
The Crokers lived in a rented property in Ingles Street, just up the road from the Port Melbourne footy ground, with a skillion roofed rear for cooking and washing, and a small rear court yard where Bern and older brother Jack would play. Though it was the wide streets of Port where they played kick the can, or other games of the day.
Port Melbourne in the 1920s was a working class suburb known for its toughness but also its community spirit. Bern was barely 7 years old when the Great Depression hit. Times had already been hard in Australia and the depression was to last the better part of a decade. So Dad’s childhood and teen years were spent against a backdrop of hardship and making do.
Bern went to primary school at St Peter and Paul’s in South Melbourne and secondary at Parade College, which was then in Victoria Parade, East Melbourne. He was academically gifted particularly in mathematics, though as was common back then he left school at “leaving”, which was the equivalent of year 10 and went to work at the Dunlop Factory in Montague Street, Port Melbourne. He studied accountancy part time in the evenings and was doing well.
However the 2nd World War intervened and Bern enlisted at the age of 20 in 1943. After training in several camps around Victoria, he spent 18 months in New Guinea. Dad was in ordinance so he did not see the frontline; nevertheless he was a casualty of the war. He was repatriated from New Guinea in 1945 with Dengue Fever and within days of returning succumbed to the Malaria that he had also contracted.
Only a few months after he returned from New Guinea his mother, Madge tragically died from influenza. Bern returned to work at Dunlop and to his accountancy studies. However he could not settle back to study and soon abandoned it. As such he never fully realised the potential of the excellent mathematical mind that he had.
Dad met our mum, Betty Cashill, at a dance in Melbourne. Betty came from Koroit in Western Victoria, though at the time was living and working in Ballarat. They were married in September 1952 and moved out to Ringwood East to live. And that is where they spent the better part of 62 years together and raised their family.
When they first came to Ringwood East their house was one of only a few dotted up Eastfield Road on what had been an apple orchard. They had a combustion stove, open fire in the lounge room, an outside dunny, a copper for clothes washing, an ice chest to keep food cool and a valve radio for entertainment. Milk was delivered daily by horse and cart.
Dad was consistent in his habits. The pay was handed over to Mum each fortnight, with just enough taken out for a few packets of Drum tobacco for rollies, and a few beers with our Grandad down at Daisy’s on Saturdays. I can rarely remember him not being home on time from work or other commitments.
Bern continued to travel in to Montague for work for several years until he secured a move to Dunlop’s Bayswater factory, where he worked until he retired at 60, after 44 years service as a cost clerk.
There were two constants in Dad’s life; his commitment to his family and his faith. Dad told us that all he wanted was to give his three sons the opportunities that he did not have growing up; the opportunity of a good education and the opportunity to play sport.
On the first point, Dad and Mum made many sacrifices to make sure we had a good education. He must have been proud to have a doctor, a mechanical engineer and a civil engineer in the family. On the second point he did give us the opportunities in sport, but unfortunately not much natural talent.
Dad’s passions in life were his football teams and walking. As a kid he would crawl under the fence at the North Port Oval to see the Borough play. However he was just as passionate about the South Melbourne Bloods in the VFL. When we were kids he would take us into the games at the MCG when South played Melbourne or Richmond. Even when South went to Sydney he could not give up on them. Through the 1980s every second Sunday was mum’s roast lunch followed by us all gathering around the TV to watch the Swans, while mum did the dishes.
Walking was his exercise and his hobby. In retirement he would go out for an hour or two every day, and eventually return with the newspaper, or milk or whatever he had been sent out to get. Several times he did the 21 kilometre Walk against Want with me. Even as he began losing his memory and a bit of agility he always wanted to go out for a walk even though he got lost a few times. In his last days he just wanted to get up and get moving.
Dad was a quiet and unassuming man. All that we need to say is that he was a good bloke and he led a good life. And simply, Dad ……. thank you for always being there for us and Mum.
We hope the Borough or the Bloods can bring home a flag for you this season.