Nestled in the temperate rain forests of north east Tasmania, Derby reached its boom time in the late 19thcentury through the discovery of tin. By 1931 when Dad was born and raised there it was still recovering from a catastrophic flood a couple of years earlier, though the mines were still in operation and would be for a couple of decades further. At the height of its industry, the village numbered some 3,000 people – for that time in Tasmania, virtually a bustling centre of commerce and social life. For several generations prior, the Ransons and the Dilgers had farmed across the north east from Branxholm, Maydena and Scottsdale. They were woven into the lore of the land. By the time I came to Derby as a young boy to stay with my grandfather and uncle Keith on holidays, Derby had become such a sleepy village as to become something of a fabled echo of its former glory. I don’t recall any industrial activity at all, but rather its silence, its impenetrable forests, the rocky banks of the Cascade River with its dark water, the shadows that would settle early on the hills as the afternoons grew weary. I remember the wooden sink benches, the hand cranked phone that connected to the outside world through the local exchange, the hospitality of the log fires, the outside lavatory. It was a different world of which they are no traces today. It was the world that formed Dad.
In some ways Dad never left this world of north east Tasmania. He was always the boy from Derby – well before Derby became famous again more recently for mountain bike trails. He never entered the spirit of the 21st century. It was an effort to get him and my mother even to have a phone on which messages could be left. Dad never had a mobile phone, never inquired about the possibility of the internet, never used an ATM as far as I know, insisted on using a banking passbook until the tellers had no idea what to do with it, and even resented that he might have to collect a numbered ticket at a shop or in an office in order to be served.
He belonged to a world in which the personal encounter was the only way by which business could operate. And this had been his strength as a shopkeeper, what made his corner store on Tamar St, opposite City Park, as legendary in the 1960s along with its uniquely painted window signs, and why he kept coming back to running fruit and vegetable bars on Charles St and Brisbane St, and in Fitzgeralds, with such energy even through his years managing Launceston Market Supplies until his retirement. It wasn’t just the shops themselves; it was the friendships and relationships that were formed and built by his repartee that made up his world. For all those customers, Dad was truly what we in Tasmania uniquely call a rum’n – a character. I think they came to the shops just as much for him as they did for the produce.
The relative isolation and wilderness of Derby stripped life bare. Underneath the camaraderie Dad could demonstrate, there was a depth of soul etched within him from the solitude of those hills in which he would often camp alone in his youth. It furnished him with an unmistakable sensitivity. His was a personality with a rather unique blend that could on the one hand erupt in the most fiery of outbursts from a bewildering lack of patience, and, on the other, dissolve into the most heartfelt empathy and compassion not without unashamed tears – and often both sides manifest in the same paragraph of conversation!
The resolution of this paradox lay in a disdain for pretense of any kind. Dad hated fuss, flowing into his demand that his own funeral also be marked by simplicity. Status was of no consequence to him. He needed things simple, unaffected – and he looked for this in others and in systems whether they be in government, education or church. It provided him with a passion at school Parents and Friends evenings and other parish forums that were remembered for how fiery they became through Dad’s insistence for transparency.
Not educated beyond Year 10, and not especially astute at business, Dad was most at ease at with physical work to which he devoted extraordinary long hours to make ends meet for five children. The two other activities which gave him energy were horse-racing and dancing. The racetrack at Elphin and Mowbray, strewn with their torn-up tote cards, was such a familiar memory of my growing up. For Dad it developed into a number of years as a steward for the Tasmanian Harness Racing circuit. It was his one outlet during those many years of such long days of work.
In later years, with the track behind him, Mum and Dad rekindled their common love of dancing, and this was how they spent their years of retirement – running country dance events and classes across the north of the State, raising money for charities. It was what brought them to the attention of the Launceston Examiner which took the beautiful photo of them in the Pride of Erin outside their unit not long after they had moved to Cosgrove Park and that we have chosen for the funeral booklet today. Indeed, one of my very earliest memories of Dad and Mum was of them dancing at Uncle Neville’s and Aunty Kath’s wedding in the early 1960s. They danced with such great poise and synchronicity. It was quite marvelous to watch. It was such a vivid symbol of their marriage.
With a 60-year partnership faithful through thick and thin, Mum’s death in 2014 left Dad with a loneliness so difficult for him to live, accentuated by the death of my sister Kristine in 2017. On behalf of my brothers and sister, I want to acknowledge in particular the beautiful friendship Dad enjoyed with Pearl Knight and Harry Banks especially over these last years, and the wonderful support he received from his grandchildren living here in Launceston -Jerome, Rebekah and Joshua – and for the many friends and relatives who kept in close contact with him – too many to name personally. For us who have been living at the far ends of the continent, your presence to Dad and your care and concern for him were invaluable and most profoundly appreciated.
In these last years he had lost the appetite for living; he longed to leave and to be with Mum and Kristine again. How grateful we are that his departure in the end came as quickly and as peaceful. We were privileged that his nieces Joy and Jan, so much part of his life journey, could be there at that time.
And so, we come back to this church. This was the church in which Dad was married in 1954, where he was received into the Catholic Community in the early 1960s, and even though he became most actively involved in parish life through St Finn Barrs Invermay in the 1970s through our family’s friendship with Fr Terry Yard, this was the church that always had significance for him. It was here he farewelled Mum in September 2014. So, it is right that we farewell him here too. We have the overwhelming sense that that he and Mum are united together again. It is fascinating the number of people who have remarked that they have now been brought back together so that the dance can go on. It is why the photo on the front of our booklet has its significance.
The dance may be a fitting image of Dad and Mum’s marriage, but it is also such a wonderful image of life in its eternity. Many centuries ago, the early writers in the Church imagined God as an eternal round dance. God is this Mystery of relationship of eternal movement and rhythm which, in its circular motion, gathers the whole of creation into its energy and momentum. The invitation given to us is, “Come, join the dance. Feel its pulse and allow yourself to be swept up into its life. Become part of its circle in which you will find the beat of creation. Let the dance become your life.”
The dancing that Dad and Mum practiced so beautifully was an echo of this invitation, a small window of its possibility, a glimpse. We hear the invitation to this Divine Dance most clearly in the voice of Jesus whose birth we are on the eve of celebrating, the One who introduces something new into our world so that our ends become our beginnings, our dying becomes our living. It was to this voice that Dad listened to in his own unique way as a man of deep Christian faith and practice which he had learnt from his own mother, which pronounced its first sounds in his baptism as a Methodist and was nourished with such constancy by his sacramental life in the Church, and which was developed by his own spiritual insight for as he asked to be printed on the inside cover of the booklet today, “Lord, I’ve read your Gospel not in the Bible alone.” Dad hears that Voice now with greater clarity than ever calling him forth into an eternal Dance of life and of love. He hears this Voice say his name exactly as it is, full of possibility.
With gratitude for his witness of another age, for the gift of life he gave us, for the sacrifices in love he made, for the friendship he exuded, for his warmth of spirit and fiery engagements, for his unmistakable kindness and empathy, for his long years of commitment, dedication and love we surrender him into the eternal Dance of God’s life.
We say “Rest in Peace but do not leave the dance floor for long for God’s love revealed in the Risen Life of Christ beckons you to be always part of the Dance of Life Eternal into which you have now been swept up. One day we too will join you again there in that Dance of Love.”
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