In January my husband and I had to rush my Dad to emergency. We had to take a strange route to avoid traffic. We also had to keep him calm. He was ironically excited in his delirium from level 10 pain. We thought he would need to stay a few days but in reality the […]When death comes. — Into The Clearing
The curtain raised. We all stood to attention and managed a macabre applause. The band had been blown up in the NYE Paris terrorist attack. In a freaky twist of fate, they’d just ducked outside to have a cigarette, and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Meanwhile, their instruments which remained exactly where they were, had survived unscathed. I’ve heard that bass player, Sebastian Gordon, intended to quit that night, and that was going to be his last cigarette. Tragically, it was, although it wasn’t how he’d planned to quit for good. It wasn’t how they’d planned to stick together either. Either they’d been born under an unlucky star, or It was a twist of fate.
This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields at https://rochellewisoff.com/. This week’s photo prompt was kindly contributed by Dale Richardson.
Why does it take the death of a loved one for us to open up, organize and enjoy the very best of our old family photographs? How could they end up in compete disarray, scattered all over the place, shoved in an old shoe box or ignored? Why don’t we look at them more often? Appreciate them?
I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. If I did, I wouldn’t need to come back here so often. I’d already know.
Then, somebody dies, and all hell breaks loose.
Where is that !@#$ shot from 1947?
Not in any of the easy-to-find places.
On New Year’s Day, my very much loved Great Aunt passed away, and I was back at it again.
To make matters worse, I’ve lost the scanner cable, and I have a huge pile of snaps aka precious memories, to copy because, of course, it’s all about the slide show these days, and the old static album’s been thrown back into the ark. Moreover, due to covid clusters in Sydney, the Queensland border has closed yet again to NSW. So, we’re not allowed to go to the funeral, and will be watching it online. This makes the photos even more precious. They’re the only concrete thing we have.
So, I’m currently sitting here with a pile of photos ready to be scanned, and I just know I’ll never be able to put them back where they came from. Of course, this would drive your garden-variety perfectionist round the bend. However, being somewhat more laissez-faire, I’m not that fussed. I’ll just find a few empty pages at the back of a random album, and when I’m preparing for my son’s 21st, I’ll find my grandmother and her three siblings standing in front of Mt Tibrogargon in amongst his baby photos.
Of course, you’d never do anything like that, would you?!! No! Not ever! All your photos are neatly arranged in chronological order, and possibly even scrapbooked.
However, what I lack in organization, I made up for in presentation and generosity. No one outside these four walls saw the chaos. They just clicked on an email and saw a wonderful, eclectic series of family photos of my aunt, uncle, grandparents, cousins and beautiful memories, and felt the love.
It’s the love and shared memories, which keep drawing me back to these precious photos, and why they’ll always be special. The people may no longer be with us, but the photos continue to keep them close.
Have you shared any special family photos or stories on your blog? I’d love to see them and hear your stories.
Dan couldn’t believe his luck when he spotted an almost new, wooden high chair sitting beside of the road. It had been sent straight from heaven, landing right at his feet. Although a new job would’ve been better, it was still an answer to prayer. He said nothing to Jess, and wrapped it up in a huge, pink bow. Dan didn’t have a TV, and didn’t worry about the news. Never found out what had happened, and how that high chair came to be sitting beside the road. The chair didn’t share its tragic secret either. It was starting over.
100 words. This week’s photo prompt has kindly been provided © Roger Bultot
This has been a contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. https://rochellewisoff.com/ Please forgive my clumsy links here. I’ve been forced over to the new block editor and am lost in the undergrowth. I am improving but still have a lot to learn.
A few days ago, I had no intention of revisiting the death of our beloved dog, Bilbo.He passed away three years ago, and my ongoing grief was nicely contained and locked away inside its protective coating (aside getting emotional on occasional Border Collie sightings). However, after reading a few dog posts and starting to write about Bilbo again, it soon became clear that my grief was still there and almost just as raw.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Bilbo had been our family dog since our youngest was a baby until she was on the cusp of becoming a teenager. Yet, in that time, Bilbo aged with his paw stuck firmly on the accelerator and he whooshed through life like a speeding bullet. All too soon, he was old and passed away.
As you might recall, Bilbo appeared in quite a few posts at Beyond the Flow, and he’d even jumped on a few times himself and put in his own two-bob’s worth. All that writing forged an incredibly intimate connection between us, where I’d all but crawled inside his fur and walked on four legs (even if I wasn’t quite sure how to operate his tail).
However, all that writing’s remained untouched sitting on my blog in the same way someone leaves a loved one’s room completely untouched after they pass away. It’s not that I was in denial. It’s been more of an avoidance thing. When it comes to going through all of that and reliving all these stories, I know it’s going to hurt, and I won’t be able to rip the band aid off quickly. Sorting these stories out is going to take quite a lot of time and meticulous attention to detail seen through an emotional lens. So,we’re talking about diving straight into the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench without a snorkel and crawling into a cave until it’s done. You don’t need to be Einstein to understand why that hasn’t happened.
Or, why my mother, hasn’t finished sorting out her parents’ belongings after they passed away either. Who wants to pack someone you love away? Or, worse still, throw them out?
It’s also such a travesty.
However, I didn’t come here to condone, or even encourage avoidance. Rather, I wanted to share what helped us cope a little better.
The first thing we did was turn to Lady, our surviving dog. However, the poor thing was grieving for Bilbo herself, and there we were desperately passing her round from lap to lap like pass the parcel expecting intensive therapy. The worst of it was, that while Lady was a very happy little dog and I’ve never seen another dog wave their tail with such gusto, she doesn’t fetch. With Bilbo being ball obsessed and having two active kids, that became a major short coming. She did come across a bit faulty, especially being part Border Collie.
Meanwhile, I started looking for toy Border Collies online. I thought this might help. However, I actually managed to stumble across a fully weighted almost life-sized Border Collie and needless to say, he found his way home. He simply became: “Fake Bilbo”. He helped for a little while, although he was clearly less interactive than Lady. (You can read about how that went HERE)
Of course, this all started pointing towards getting a second dog. However, our finances weren’t great, and we thought we’d wait a year. Give ourselves a chance to grieve.
However, fate soon intervened. There’s nothing like “the hair of the dog”.
You see, a close friend was part of a dog fostering group and she’d heard that a litter of Border Collie x Kelpie pups had come into care and they were looking for foster families. She thought fostering would allow us to see how we liked the dogs and whether we wanted to keep one, or foster them both out. We headed off to a local pet shop car park on a cold Winter’s night about 10.00 pm until a car with dog trailer pulled up and there he was… our beautiful puppy, Zac. I’d already chosen him from a photo online and my heart fluttered as soon as I saw him. Our daughter picked out the second pup, Rosie, due to the white stripe on her head “like Bilbo” and her black spots. They were micro-chipped, vaccinated and loaded into the car – never to return.
That’s how we ended up with three dogs. The two pups bonded so closely together that they’re like a single dog split in two. That meant we couldn’t separate them and we couldn’t make up our minds either and had a 50-50 split.
However, wait! There’s more.
Now, that we’d become part of this animal rescue network, we got wind that they needed carers for a litter of kelpie pups and we put our hands up to take two. They were supposedly “4 weeks old and had been weaned”. However, they were closer to three weeks old and were still being bottle fed. They could barely walk, and it looked like they hadn’t been outside on the grass before. They were absolutely adorable… our two little rolly pollies. I still remember when Zac, who was still a pup himself, helped one of the micro-pups up the back steps. He was so good with them.
Unfortunately, Lady didn’t share his enthusiasm, and must’ve been really confused about where all these puppies were coming from! She’d gone from living with and losing Bilbo, to having our two pups turn up out of nowhere. As if that wasn’t enough to get used to, two more pups turned up. Lady went from being an only dog, to being an instant mother of four. Where was it going to end? She didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all! There was a lot of deep throated growling telling those wretched pups who was boss. Needless to say, Lady wasn’t about to win any awards for being: “Mother of the Year”.
That left us with five dogs for a few months, which was a bit full-on, but we loved them all. All these puppies sure made us laugh, and rekindled our appreciation of the little things, as they bumbled along in their puppyish ways exploring the world through fresh eyes.
Moreover, it reminds me of what happens at the office when that completely over-worked person finally leaves. It takes two new people to do their job. For awhile there, it took five dogs to fill Bilbo’s paws. Yet, by immersing ourselves in dogs during that time of grief, it certainly helped us get through. Indeed, it reminds me of an old saying: “If you can’t have the one you love, love the one you’re with. If you can’t love the one you’re with, switch off the light.”
That’s a piece of wisdom which must be applied with caution. However, there is no one way of dealing with grief, and not everyone wants to move on. They don’t want to fill that empty chair, and that’s fine too. It’s just about ultimately reaching a point, where we’re okay.
PS Having added the photographs of the puppies to the text, it really brought home to me how uplifting it was to have the puppies in the house. I don’t like to harp on about my health issues and the impact they have on our family and the omnipresent cloud hanging overhead. It’s been no accident that we’ve had dogs in the house. They’ve been there for emotional and comic relief, and I remember how close I was to my dog growing up and that there may come a time when they really need to call on the dog for some pretty hard core support. Fortunately, so far so good.
Maybe, one day our kids will read this and come to realise how much thought and action’s gone on behind the scenes…mother duck gliding along looking like she’s doing nothing, but paddling like a maniac under the surface and particularly late at night.
Writing about Bilbo yesterday has brought back so many precious memories. While it’s easy to canonize the dead and turn them into a saint, they’re still human. Or, in Bilbo’s case, canine but believing he’s human, and he was always treated as such.
For much of the day, Bilbo could pass for a glorious designer floor rug sunning himself in the backyard or sleeping under my desk. However, he had his triggers like the rest of us and the posty was the most predictable one, along with anyone riding a bicycle or walking past with a dog. As a younger dog, he was also a real villain on the lead and he must’ve thought our local footpath was a racetrack to the beach. I’m most surprised we didn’t become air born. He was also particularly protective of the kids. At least, that’s what I blame for his metamorphosis into a lunging, barking, snarling menace when the school bus pulled up. Indeed, it got to the point where we couldn’t take him. He was vicious. He also wasn’t happy when my friend Clare used to pick up the kids and take them to school, while I was recovering from chemo. She did that for at least a couple of months, and yet his manner never changed. He stuck to his guns.
It’s hard to understand how such a placid, loving dog could change so much. However, like the rest of us he’d also been traumatised by my severe health battles, and we couldn’t explain things to him. Like us, he also knew he was fighting against an invisible force, and he rounded up his own list of suspects however misguided. He’d spent many nights comforting me, and knew something awful was out there somewhere. However, I couldn’t tell him that with an auto-immune disease, the enemy was within.
Anyway, looking at the photo of me with Bilbo and Lady in the kayak last night, reminded me of another one of Bilbo’s epic stories. A few years ago, my parents had this idyllic place on the waterfront at Palm Beach. It was on the Pittwater side where it was flat water and very tidal. The bay would fill up and empty like a bath with methodical clockwork which we couldn’t ignore. Indeed, we were very much controlled and directed by the tides, and at their mercy. That was fine because we adapted to the rhythms. At low tide, you could go for a walk and at high tide, you could head out on the kayak or the Laser, the little sailboat the previous owners had left behind.
The very first time we headed out on the kayaks was unforgettable. Not just because we were out on the water. We were some distance from home, when we spotted a Border Collie standing on the shore. At first, we were merely excited to see another Border Collie, as you are when you see another dog that looks like yours. However, as we got closer, it soon became obvious this Border Collie was also watching us. Indeed, he was following us along the bank.
Oh no! Our precious, docile floor rug had decided once again, that the sky was falling. It was the end of the world, and he had to save the day. The only trouble was that being totally averse to getting his paws wet, he couldn’t leap in to save us. He was painfully stuck and doing all he could…barking!
By the way, I should also point out that Bilbo had gone to great lengths to get out. He’d shewed through the side gate and gnawed through a paling and he’d also run through quite a few backyards to reach his lookout post.
Oh dear! Geoff was off to the local hardware store to buy tools and carry out repairs. Mum and Dad had only just bought the place and we didn’t want to be known as “The Wreckers”.
Of course, this wasn’t Bilbo’s only tale of mass destruction. I might’ve mentioned this before. However, I was in hospital for about 8 weeks when I was first diagnosed with my auto-immune disease The kids were staying with my parents and Geoff kept working while I was in hospital so he could take time off when I got home. Again, not being able to explain things to the dog caused issues. Indeed, it’s hard enough to explain things to the dog at the best of times, let alone when you don’t know what’s happening yourself!!
Well, like so many of us, Bilbo took matters into his own hands. Or, in this scenario, it was more of a case of chewing and digging his way towards enlightenment. He started digging and chewing through the computer network cabling under the house, which was clearly getting in his way as he dug wombat holes perilously close to the foundations. It appeared that he only stopped when he started on a power cable and might’ve had experienced more than a slight tingle.
Geoff arrived home after work, after driving round to see me in hospital and visiting the kids at Mum and Dad’s (which had become his nightly routine) to find out he had no connectivity. Fortunately, the reason we had such an elaborate home network going back about 12 years ago, is that Geoff is a senior network engineer and back in the day when Novel mattered, he was a Certified Novel Network engineer. However, that didn’t mean he wanted or needed to rebuild our home network even though he could, and Bilbo’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Moreover, Bilbo’s complaints to management had clearly gone much further than the usual puppy antics of chewing shoes and disemboweling the stuffing out of his bed. Let’s just say Geoff wasn’t happy and while he was re-installing the network, he also blocked the said pup out from under the house.
However, to be fair to the dog, he’d gone from having me and the kids at home much of the time where he was with us constantly. He was one of us more than the rest of us could ever be, and was the glue at the heart of our family. To go from that, to suddenly being alone without rhyme or reason must’ve been a huge shock. So, I don’t blame him for staging a four-legged protest. I wasn’t too happy with the situation either.
The strange thing about all of Bilbo’s antics and so many of our own, is that once we’ve worked through the initial response and allowed the dust to settle, we actually find these catastrophes funny. They make us laugh. Indeed, life would be so uneventful without the things which give us nightmares. I’m not sure how he psychology or mechanics of all of this works, but perhaps someone out there can enlighten me.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to read about laughter’s capacity to get us through the toughest of times, I encourage you to read this very uplifting though very difficult post from Aimee Foster who lost her baby girl when she was a day old: Why It’s Essential to Find Humor At Your Darkest Hour.
Do you have any funny dog stories you would like to share? Or, perhaps you’re more of a cat person. Or, perhaps reading this has reminded you of a cherished person you have lost? I would love to hear from you in the comments.
“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love
deeply becomes a part of us.”
It’s been almost three years since our gorgeous Border Collie, Bilbo, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. However, today I read a few posts which reminded of him and all these raw emotions and memories came flooding back in a way which caught my defences off guard.
Bilbo was every bit a part of our family as the rest of us, and there’s a dreadful sense of loss when you lose someone in your family. Human or dog, you just can’t replace them straight away and they leave behind a hole like a cookie cutter in their very own shape, which can not be filled. However, although it can be painful to remember, it’s ultimately worse to forget, which is why I wanted to share this moving story.
Just to put you in the picture, it was mid-January 2012…eight years ago. It wasn’t New Year’s Day when every other human and their dog automatically go on diets to welcome in the New year. Rather, it was two weeks later. I was the first cab off the rank, Geoff was second and Bilbo was lucky last.
Starting with yours truly, just before Christmas, I’d found out that my auto-immune disease was affecting my lungs and I was showing early signs of Institial Lung Disease(ILD) and fibrosis. I couldn’t get an appointment with the lung specialist until mid-January, the day before we were due to leave on a family holiday to Byron Bay. I was absolutely distraught over Christmas and New Year and vowed I’d do anything to keep myself alive to be there for the kids. They were still only seven and five and still so young and naturally I vowed to do everything I could to get more time with them. Fight right to the very and if I had to. Indeed, I would do anything for love and the song became my song and mantra through this truly excruciating time:
However, there’s a key line of the song undermines all that devotion….”but I won’t do that”.
What was it I wouldn’t do? Where was my breaking point? Where would I draw the line when it came to self-sacrifice to be there for my kids?
It was funny because I remember looking into the pantry and seeing a packet of Tim Tams sitting in there, and it was calling out to me. It was like they’d come to life and were asking me if I could give them up. Could I give up my beloved Tim Tams to buy extra time with my kids? Or, was the packet of Tim Tams going to be my Achilles Heel? My “but I can’t do that”?
Of course not. I was made of stronger stuff than that. Well, at least I hoped so.
Well, I was lucky. The lung specialist felt that the Institial Lung Disease was mild and dormant. I was not in any imminent danger of dying, although he told me exercise and losing weight could help my breathing and quality of life. The next day, we left for my in-law’s place just outside Byron Bay, Australia’s alternate health capital and found myself sugar-free on the Caveman Diet and drinking gurgling spirolina smoothies. Over the next few months, I lost ten kilos.
Meanwhile, my husband, Geoff, was diagnosed with high cholesterol, and the doctor wanted to see whether diet could avoid medication. So, while I went sugar free, he went low fat and with all of us eating the same food, we were both losing weight.
That is, all except Bilbo.
However, that didn’t last very long. Soon, Bilbo went off for his annual trip to the vet’s, and boy did I get a talking to. I don’t know if any of you have ever taken an overweight pet to the vet. If you have, you might’ve found yourselves in a similar spot where you’re much loved pet is unceremoniously called: “FAT.” If they’re being nice, they might tell you: “You’re killing your pet with kindness”. However, they could also be brutally direct, and speak to you in a way that no paediatrician would ever use to a parent of an overweight child. Indeed, they can hit you where it hurts just like a well aimed ruler across the knuckles. Actually, make that the heartstrings. There’s not much worse than being told you’re a bad parent of child or dog.
To be fair though, Bilbo did hit the scales at 42 kilos, and although he’s tall for a Border Collie, he wasn’t that tall. Of course, I should’ve known and done something about it myself, without needing the vet to point it out. A friend had referred affectionately to his “love handles” as she was feeding him her left over gravy. Moreover, while he could somewhat conceal all that excess over-indulgence beneath his woolly coat, we weren’t stupid.
Reality really hit home, however, when the vet asked how many meals a day he’d been having. That was the very first time I’d really become conscious of the mind-blowing volume of leftovers I’d been feeding him. Both of our kids were non-eaters and it wasn’t unusual for him to get both of their leftovers breakfast, lunch and dinner. After all, I hate waste, and we even have a worm farm to consume what the dogs don’t eat.
Bilbo was put on an instant diet. No more snacks, treats, leftovers.
The trouble is, how do you tell a dog that he’s on a diet? How do you explain that you’re just not being mean, when you no longer give him that tasty morsel of fat off your steak? He was so used to getting all of our left overs that he had expectations – a sense of entitlement. So, naturally he looked at me through those huge, soppy puppy dog eyes as though I’d ripped his heart out. I was being so mean, and he knew nothing about the virtues of tough love. Was it too much to ask for Mum to have her cake, and for him to have some too? He certainly thought nothing of it. However he was a slow learner. A few weeks later when the kids went back to school, Bilbo spotted the lunchboxes and knew there would be leftovers for him inside. You could just imagine the look on his face when they bypassed his bowl and went straight in the bin.
I’m surprised Bilbo didn’t record his own sob song and post it on Youtube. His nose was very out of joint. After all, he knew food and love went hand in hand, and straight into his mouth.
“They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
The only other time I’ve even seen Bilbo look at food in quite the same way was when he was put on prednisone for an infection. He was absolutely ravenous (prednisone is like a hunger drug and it makes you eat and eat and eat).
It really was hard putting him through this diet, but he lost weight, even if he was never going to make Slimmer-Of -The-Year.
Losing his appetite was the first sign Bilbo wasn’t well at the end and not being able to chase his ball was the second. Even still, we hoped for a miracle.
It wasn’t meant to be.
“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for
those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as
However, as the song The Way We Were reminds us:
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
The way we were
Tony was in Mexico for a conference. Yet,he somehow wound up in the backseat of a VW heading out to San Andrés Mixquic, southeast of Mexico City to celebrate the Day of the Dead. The streets were packed, but he soon spotted the most exquisitely beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was almost floating up to the altar and left behind a handful of marigolds along with a black and white photograph. They exchanged smiles and she whispered:”todas somos calaveras”. Cupid’s arrow struck fast. Yet, as he reached out to touch her hand, she was nothing but air. A ghost.
Phew. This week’s prompt was rather challenging and I’m not sure if the decor in this cafe was connected to Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations which are held annually on the 2nd November. However, that was the approach I took. Being from Sydney, Australia, Mexico is a long way from home and quite a bit of research was required to pull this off. I only heard about the Day of the dead for the first time a few years ago.
Naturally, I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has actually been there.
In the National Geographic article listed below, I found a reference to Mexican political cartoonist and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada who created an etching to accompany a literary calavera. Posada dressed his personification of death in fancy French garb and called it Calavera Garbancera, intending it as social commentary on Mexican society’s emulation of European sophistication. “Todos somos calaveras,” a quote commonly attributed to Posada, means “we are all skeletons.” Underneath all our manmade trappings, we are all the same. I really liked that sentiment and hence incorporated it into my story.
Meanwhile, you might enjoy this further reading:
“Put those flowers back you dirty, little thief!” screeched the elderly widow, praying at her husband’s grave. “Nothing’s sacred. Little guttersnipe stealing from the dead! Where are her parents?”
I ran as fast as my little legs would go, clutching the porcelain roses close to my chest determined they wouldn’t break. We couldn’t even afford a stone for Mother’s grave, and father had made the wooden cross himself. Yet, Mother deserved the very best, and I fully intended to give her a proper stone etched with all our love when I grew up.
Meanwhile, the stolen roses were it.
This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields, where we write up to 100 words to a provided photo prompt.PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.
On Tuesday 8th April, 1924, two ships collided in a treacherous stretch of water near the entrance of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, known as The Rip. Five crew members and one passenger drowned when a massive coal steamer, the Dilkera, ploughed into a small coastal steamer, the Wyrallah, which had strayed across its path. The Wyrallah sank like a stone in less than ten minutes, and the heartbreaking cries of the drowning men could be heard from the Dilkera until there was nothing but silence.
For the survivors, there was the dampened joy of a “miracle”. Meanwhile, for the families of the lost, there was only devastating heartbreak, and in many cases, also serious financial hardship. Widows were left without husbands, and children without fathers. With the victims being Melbourne men, the tragedy would have hit the city hard. With those few degrees of separation, many would have known the families and been touched by the Wyrallah Disaster in quite a personal way. Indeed, I can almost hear people talking in the streets about someone they knew. Yet, that pain was obviously most acute for the little ones who’d lost their dads. I keep thinking of those little children all tucked into their beds on that ill-fated night, sleeping soundly and not knowing Daddy wasn’t coming home. It breaks my heart. I’m also conscious that my grandmother and her brother were also sleeping in their beds at home in Sydney’s Bondi, equally oblivious to the tragedy. However, lucky for them, their father came back. Well, at least, he did that time.
My Great Grandfather, Reuben William Gardiner, was Second Mate onboard the Dilkera, and that’s what initially drew me into this story. While you’d expect that some reference to the collision would have passed down through the family, the first I knew about it, was spotting a reference in the online newspaper repository, Trove. I am something of a shadow hunter, relentlessly pursuing the lost tales of my ancestors through the online newspapers. Naturally, finding a reference to something this monumental, was something I had to pursue at full throttle and naturally, I wanted to know more about his role in the tragedy. I donned my Sherlock Holmes hat and cloak and set to work.
Unfortunately, when it came to knowing Reuben William Gardiner on any personal level, I’d barely seen the tip of the ice berg. He died more than thirty years before I was born, and had become little more than a photograph on my grandmother’s shelf, and a few snippets of story. He was still quite a young looking man in the photo, and he was wearing his officer’s cap. Although he’d qualified as a Master Mariner, he was working as Second Mate with the Adelaide Steamship Company. Apparently, from a technical perspective, that meant he was responsible for navigation onboard. However, that doesn’t take into account his love of the sea, the comraderie with his mates, or that knowledge that the fate of the ship rested in the Lord’s hands. Or, perhaps it was all just down to luck. I’m actually surprised more philosophers weren’t created out sailing on ships, rather than hanging out in the relative safety of Paris cafes.
Reuben Gardiner was born on 3rd Dec, 1876 in Newtown, Sydney to William Henry Gardiner boot maker and Sarah Ann Baker. A few years later, his younger brother, Frederick, followed. However, in 1884, tragedy struck when his mother and twin brothers died in childbirth leaving nine year old Reuben and brother without a mum. On 1st April, 1891 William Henry Gardiner married Jane Ann Lynch at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church Wollombi. Reuben struggled to adjust to his new step-mother, who he referred to as “Mrs G”. According to my grandmother, when he was around 17, he left home in West Maitland and joined the merchant navy. In 1910, he married piano teacher Ruby May McNamara at Waverley. Ruby was the eldest of eight daughters born at Queanbeyan to John McNamara and Elizabeth Johnston. I knew Ruby as “Gran, but they called each other: “Reub and Rube”.
What I did know about Reuben Gardiner, was that he died of a heart attack at sea onboard the Arkaba in 1936. Reuben died only four months after my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, had left for London with her mother onboard the Esperance Bay and neither could attend his funeral held at Sydney’s towering St Mary’s Cathedral.
Eunice had won a prestigious scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London and was already quite a sensation. A fundraising committee had been established by Lady Gordon and a big testimonial concert was held at Sydney’s Town Hall to finance her studies. However, there was never any question of Eunice going to London alone. Her father was clear: “You might as well throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour.”However, this meant that Ruby wasn’t here to bury her husband and make those last goodbyes. That in supporting her daughter’s prodigious talent as she had always done, Ruby had made an incredible personal sacrifice. Reuben’s death also meant that Eunice’s older brother, Dr Les Gardiner, a young doctor at St Vincent’s Hospital, stepped in and supported his mother and sister while putting his own surgical studies on hold and supporting his own wife and family.
So, in a different sense, I have also grown up with this story of a father going off to sea, and not coming home, but for different reasons.
In addition to my personal connection to the collision, I also saw another story emerging from the Wyrallah Disaster. Something about the mysterious twists and turns of fate, which most of us fail to understand, and pause to question from time to time and usually at our peril. These two ships could well have passed each other in the night. Yet, through a series of such twists and turns, they collided. Why was it so? Why did the survivors make it, while the victims perished? Was it God, fate, destiny or just bad luck? Who or what was at the helm of that particular ship? The one which makes all the ultimate decisions over life and death? Was it God? Each of us has a length of string. Some of us have a longer piece of string than others. Moreover, some of us will know when our time is close, while many have no idea at all. They’re suddenly struck down by the equivalent of a cosmic thunderbolt, and that’s it. Game Over.
Of course, we can’t live our lives constantly in the shadow of the Grim Reaper. We need to Carpe Diem seize the day. Stretch ourselves out to our full capacity, not knowing whether we’re going to make it. Indeed, there seems to be something innately human about challenging ourselves well beyond our known capabilities, even if it does lead us to our death. In that case, our loved ones stoically celebrate: “At least, they went doing what they loved.”
However, I wonder how many of us actually consider that it could well be a little, miniscule detail something so small we can barely see it, which in that flash of lightening, that momentary second in time, puts us in the wrong place at the wrong time? Moreover, in some instances the difference between life and death can be a few centimetres either to the left or the right. One person dies, while the other survives. It can all seem so random. In many instances, there were turning points where decisions were made setting all sorts of events in motion. Yet, there is no turning back. After all, we can’t just rewind and “play it again, Sam”. What’s done is done. We can only learn from it, and do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Above: Three of the “missing men who lost their lives onboard the Wyrallah. Engineer John Wighton (on the right) went back in to rescue the firemen and didn’t make it out.
Personally, I find it hard to understand how God’s will, fate, destiny, good and bad luck and miracles all come together. I don’t understand why some people who have been very close to me or people I care about, have died tragically and far too young. However, I do believe that each of us has our lot…our own burden to carry. Yet, at the same time, I also know that in many instances we can make things better or worse for ourselves. Indeed, I’m constantly amazed by how often we shoot ourselves in the foot without any help from anybody else. I do that myself.
It took a long of reading and research before I could even start to understand what happened on that ill-fated night of the Wyrallah Disaster. Moreover, naturally my initial focus was to place my Great Grandfather at the scene and find out what I could about the role he played, if any. However, most of the newspaper coverage focused on the survivors and “missing” from the Wyrallah, and they weren’t interested in the actions of Mr RW Gardiner. However, that didn’t stop me from infusing him into the scene. As I read stories of survivors being wrenched from the wreckage by the grip of a stranger pulling them to safety, I wanted that to be him. I wanted him to be the good guy, the Good Samaritan, the hero.
However, tough decisions also had to be made and not everyone could be the hero. The Dilkera had also been damaged in the collision and at the time, both ships were within the treacherous waters of The Rip. The Dilkera desperately needed to reach safety to assess her own damage. So, after quickly saving who they could, a decision was made not to stop to save the drowning men… the chilling voices calling out from the sinking vessel. Captain Watson decided that it was “better to save one ship than to lose two”. Of course, when you’re talking about maneuvering a massive vessel like the Dilkera, swinging into action wouldn’t have been a simple matter, and it was considered too dangerous to send out the lifeboats. There would only be a further loss of life. Yet, there’s still that Good Samaritan in me who can’t understand how anyone could leave those men behind without even throwing them a lifebelt. That said, by all accounts, it seems that the men died very quickly and more than likely, that nothing could be done. However, I wasn’t the only one asking such questions and the newspapers of the day also wanted to know. There was also an inquiry.
Speaking of the inquiry, I thought I might just mention that Sir Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978), former Australian Prime Minister twice over (26 April 1939 – 29 August 1941 and19 December 1949 – 26 January 1966) , represented the owners of the Wyrallah at the inquiry. Admitted to the Bar in 1918, he’d already established a name for himself. In 1920, as advocate for the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, he won a case in the High Court of Australia, which proved a landmark in the positive reinterpretation of Commonwealth powers over those of the States.
So, already quite a complex story has started taking shape. However, unfortunately even a good story doesn’t come all neatly gift wrapped. I have a lot of hard work ahead but I want to take this story as far as I can. Fingers crossed. I can see this one having a beginning, a middle and an end.
I would be particularly interested to hear from anyone connected with collision of the Wyrallah and the Dilkera. It’s definitely a story which deserves to be retold and it would be lovely to honour those precious men who tragically lost their lives, leaving their families behind.