Eulogy for Fred
By his wife "D" at the Semaphore Worker's club
A Gypsy once told Fred that he would die when he was 27. Instead, he seemingly, dodged his destiny when he sailed to Australia, landed at Outer Harbor
in February 1958 had his 27th birthday in June of that year. He then lived on for another 5 decades.
We were £10 tourists, Pommy bastards to some Australian, sometimes said affectionately, sometimes not. They also called us the great unwashed because they thought we didn't take enough baths. We were never whinging Poms though. Despite homesickness and setbacks we were here to stay. Fred's first job was working for a Ukrainian family who owned a butcher's shop near the migrant hostel. The old man told Fred, at the end of his first week that he wouldn't be paying the full wage because he didn't have Australian credentials. Fred brought in the union. The old man promptly sacked him. A skilled tradesman who had managed butcher's shops in England since he was 20. Sacked! Fred was mortified. The union advised him to work his notice and then they would throw the book at the old man. But then the old lady got into the act and started spitting in his face and waiving knives at him. Fred thought the next step might lead to them digging a big hole in the back yard. So he walked out and got a job in the Port, where he found himself among mates, the shop manager was so indignant at his treatment he practically gave him a job on the spot.
We were still on the hostel
and not too happy with the accommodation when a job was advertised, with a house, in Barmera
, in the Riverland.
Travelling there by bus was a real eye-opener. It looked like cowboy country to us. The manager of the butcher's shop gave us a bed the first night and it didn't inspire confidence when, sleeping in the son's room we saw a jar of picked snakes on top of the wardrobe.
In Barmera, Fred worked not only as a butcher but as a casual bar-hand at the pub and a weekend grape picker during the season. Sticky work. He came home looking like the creature from the swamp covered in red dust and grape juice.
Eventually we moved back to the city and Fred managed several butcher's in the suburbs. His customers were his friends, he'd joke with them, and give their kids a piece
and bring home stories of some of the odder ones.
In the 70's we sold our house in Modbury and took off, in the caravan, to travel around and see something of Australia. After nearly a year we returned and Fred fulfilled a long held wish. He bought his own business. The shop was in Elizabeth North and many of his customers were typical Aussie battlers, migrants and pensioners. The pensioners liked their "lovely butcher" who would serve them just one chop, or a couple of eggs and a bacon rasher. No amount was too small. "You're all customers" he'd say.
Old Jock a garrulous Scotsman liked to drop in for a yarn, which was alright until he brought his bottle of whisky in with him.
Occasionally someone would try to take advantage of Fred's good nature. One couple bought a cheap side of lamb from the market and then brought it in to the shop and asked Fred to cut it up for them. And he did "Just this once" he said.
A man brought his cat around for Fred to de-sex. It was a fully grown Tom-cat too. He opted out of that one.
We left Elizabeth, the shop and the customers, reluctantly, when Fred's health deteriorated. He eventually had to have an aortic aneurysm repair. We moved to Semaphore. Semaphore was our kind of place. Working class values, labour voters, more eccentric "characters" than you could poke a stick at. Great old pubs, where you could have great old sing songs and good homely meals and most importantly, particularly for Fred close proximity to the beach. He loved walking along the beach, sometimes for hours. He was great walker.
He'd take his campervan
and his bottle of Cooper's
down to the esplanade and sit with the door wide open
, listening to the radio, picking the horses and watching the passing parade. People would stop and talk to him. He liked that.
Our eldest grandson reminded me the other day, of how he used to sit in the van with "granddad" playing cards with the small change Fred kept in a plastic bag in the glove box. Fred always let him win a couple of games so he'd have some money to go home with.
It's a long time since we lived in Semaphore and although it's changed, it's still a bit like coming home.
In the intervening years there have been troubled times, unhappy events and ill health, but happy times too.
There are a lot of memories, too many to recount and as I process them I feel "I'd like to remember the best and let go the rest".
Fred loved much in life and suffered much in health, especially in these last few years. We all felt something of his pain as his personality disappeared into his illness.
It's just a fanciful idea I know, but I'd like to think of him on a beach somewhere - walking.
Thank you for listening.
Fred, born in Middleton, UK in June 1931, died August 2008.