Almanac Memoir: Uncle Colin


[Wikimedia Commons.]


Uncle Colin


My Great-Uncle Colin came from God’s Country. One thinks of that land, where I holidayed when I was young, the same way as the Virgin Mary felt in the Magnificat, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, / And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour…’. Where Col came from the mountains were high, the peaks snow-covered in winter and much of spring, and the air bracing and vivifying. The people there lived years longer than anyone else in the country. His mother was still chopping wood at the age of 103, and became the oldest person in the nation. There was gold in the pristine rivers, creeks and rocks where he grew up, and a company that operated a dredge on the banks of a large pond in its search for a major supply of the precious metal. The pond was bottomless, according to my mother. I had no reason to disbelieve her back then, as a kid – I’d seen the pond, and its water was still and deep emerald. My mother also told me that the quartz of the low stone fences surrounding Colin’s family home glittered with real gold.


Col grew up in a tiny town at the foot of a high mountain that was part of a range of big mountains. It was the High Country. As a young man, before and after he went off to the war, he played Australian Rules football in a tough alpine league where, according to reputation, in spite of his small frame he was utterly fearless, diving into the bottom of muddy packs where angels feared to tread, copping and delivering his share of clouts, backhanders and sharpened elbows. He defined tough, but wouldn’t have thought himself that way. ‘If he belted me, I belted ‘im,’ he would’ve said. ‘That’s all.’


The law was benign in the land of Colin. He once told me a story of how he got his motorbike licence. The local Police Station was at a town nineteen miles away, still in the Land of God. Col rode there on his motorbike. The local constable saw him pull up outside.


‘What do you want, son?’ the policeman asked.


‘To get the licence for me bike,’ answered Col.


“How did you get here?’


‘On me bike.’


‘Where did you come from?’


‘The bottom of the mountain,’ he said, pointing in its direction.


‘Nineteen miles. You can obviously ride it then.’


‘Yeah,’ said Colin.


The policeman gave him his licence on the spot. Col rode home.




After the war ended, Col came back from his posting in the far far north, skinny and pale, with a fag hanging out the corner of his mouth, according to my grandmother. He ran into a whip-crack bright spinster school teacher, my grandmother’s sister, Ethel, who happened to be teaching at a small school in the alpine zone. She was forty and he was twenty one when they married. He was a country innocent and, again according to my grandmother, Great-Aunty Ethel made a ‘fine robust man’ out of Colin – in other words, she introduced Col to the carnal mysteries.


Col and Ethel moved to the city and had one son, who was nothing like him at all. The son went to university and had a professional career.


Eventually, Col and Ethel retired back to the county, to a beautiful hamlet in another part of the Great Dividing Ranges. Again the air was bracing and vivifying. They were married for fifty-six years. One morning he got up and noticed his dear wife still and lifeless beside him.


Our family attended Ethel’s funeral in the nearby country town, and she was buried in the local cemetery, little more than a pretty paddock behind the church. Her wake was at the bowling club. Col and I conversed over cups of tea. He was a lifelong abstainer.


‘Always good memories’, I said to Col, referring to my thoughts concerning his wife, my blood relative.


‘Me too’, he replied, his voice almost cracking.




Our family kept in contact with Great-Uncle Colin for a few more years, and during that time I got some Christmas cards written in his scratchy, semi-literate hand. Then we lost touch.


Last I heard, he’d moved somewhere ‘up the Murray’, to live with his brother Jack. Jack had lost his own wife some years earlier than Col.




Colin must be dead now. No-one has received any news about him for ages. He would have to be over 100 if he was still alive.


But you never know.





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Kevin Densley is a graduate of both Deakin University and The University of Melbourne. He has taught writing and literature in numerous Victorian universities and TAFES. He is a poet and writer-in-general. His fifth book-length poetry collection, Please Feed the Macaws ... I'm Feeling Too Indolent, will be published in late 2023 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. Fabulous tribute KD. Of a different generation that had no expectations. They just got on with it.

    What happened to Col’s son?

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the comments, Dips.

    Yes, I think the kind of life Col led is impossible now, for various reasons.

    I last saw Col’s son, a second cousin of mine, at Ethel’s funeral. He had become a teacher at a private school – a science master, and perhaps even headmaster at some stage.

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