2022 - Hale and Hearty in Benalla.
90 years of living...
I was the youngest of the family and my mother died when I was 4 years old.
My father was an alcoholic and his sisters determined that he could not adequately care for his family.
Consequently my 6 years old brother, Basil, and I were packed off to Villa Maria in Ballarat East. I always regarded Villa as a home for the disadvantaged, even though it was gazetted as a boys’ boarding school.
We both remained until grade 8 when we received our “Merit Certificates”. We had not enjoyed our time at Villa. The nuns, the Sisters of Mercy, did not live up to the title of “mercy”.
School holidays were spent with Uncle Ned and Aunty Mary Caine at Swanwater. Mary was Dad’s sister, but never showed us any affection. On the other hand, Uncle Ned was a loving man.
On receiving my Merit Certificate in 1944 I was deemed to be too small to enter the work force and, living at Caine’s, went to the Swanwater North State school to re-do grade 8 and sit for a scholarship. I was successful and the scholarship entitled me to tutorial and accommodation at St. Patrick’s College, also in Ballarat, where I obtained my “Leaving Certificate”.
On leaving the college, I got a job with the Stock and Station firm of Victorian Producers Co-Op (VPC). My first posting was to Benalla, where I became acquainted with the Hernan family, comprising John and Francie and their 7 children. They gave me the “home” which I had never known. Also, the Elliots, who put on a “surprise” birthday party for me on my 21st.
I worked for 17 years with the VPC, spent at Benalla (1950 - 1955) St.Arnaud (1955 - 1958) Wodonga (1958 - 1961) Melbourne Head Office (1961 - 1963) Benalla (1963 - 1967).
In St. Arnaud and Wodonga I boarded in hotels. I succumbed to the ready availability of alcohol and, to my detriment, became a regular drinker. However, I retained my strong work ethic.
On the bright side, I joined the Wodonga Bowling Club and have been a lawn bowler, now, for over 60 years.
While in Melbourne I was reunited with my older brother John. I lived the happiest years of my life, up till then, with John and his family. The exception was that I suffered multiple internal injuries, a depressed fracture of the skull and brain damage in a motor accident. I still bear the scars.
On returning to Benalla, I became re-acquainted with Bernadette and married her in 1967. We built our own home and raised 4 wonderful children who all graduated at university and are now successful in their chosen fields. We have 11 grandchildren.
Now I have the family life which I sorely missed as a child.
From the early to mid 70s, Bernadette and I fostered an infant relative who'd lost her mother to cancer. We were heart broken some years later when her father remarried and claimed her.
In 1967 I changed jobs, and, after intensive study, I entered a business partnership as a Chartered Accountant. The partnership survived a fraudulent office manager, and the 1993 floods, and prospered.
In 1971 Bernadette and I purchased the Benalla Coin Laundrette as an extension to our business interests. We sold it in 1988 after an interesting 17 years. In 1986 we, together with four other parties, formed the River Gums Estate syndicate which developed and sold 150 residential blocks in the south-eastern corner of Benalla.
Regrettably, in the 1970s I mourned the deaths of my two best friends, Kevin Hernan and Bill Keenan.
I retired from business in the year 2000 and became more intense in my community involvement, resulting in an Order of Australia Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list of 2013, “For service to the community of Benalla”.
Over a lifetime we have enjoyed holidays and travel in every state and territory of Australia. In retirement we went on 6 Pacific Island and New Zealand cruises and travelled overseas to the British Isles, Europe, Scandinavia and St. Petersburg.
I continued my involvement with the Benalla bowling club, where I am a “life member”, and the Rotary Club where I am a “Paul Harris Fellow” and an “honorary member”.
U3A and Probus have played important roles in my retirement, and I am gradually easing out.
In May 2022 I celebrated my 90th birthday and now I relax in contentment, and am constantly aware of, and accept, my own mortality.
It has, indeed, been a long - and fulfilling - life.