Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Remembering Bill

It's hard to know how to commemorate a life that ended twelve months ago today, especially the life of a man who had such a great influence on me and my life as he was part of my life for over thirty years. We had so many adventures together over those years, including the completion of a yacht he was building when I met him and then sailing her locally and on one momentous trip to New Caledonia which included experiencing a significant storm so wild that we managed to eat only Sao Crackers and drink only cold water for four days! Sharing adventures like that - there were several close calls over the years - grows a special kind of friendship.

Last year I wrote and submitted an obituary to the local 'Bush Telegraph' as we had lived a number of years here in southern Tasmania. Some of you may have read it before, but I am sharing it here again today in his memory. Tonight, if you remember Bill, have a drink to his memory, even if it's just a cup of tea. At the same time remember other friends and family who have passed, all too many of them it seems in the short time I have been back here. Cheers to them all, for the memories.

From the Bush Telegraph November 2012

"Many of you will have known Bill or known about him as the crazy man who put his boat up on Jimmy Mitchell's slipway and cut the bottom off it. He wanted to be able to get in and out over the Southport bar into Hastings Bay where he found safe and secure anchorage for the Minerva III after bought a little cottage in Ida Bay back in the late 1980s. 

Bill passed away at his home just north of Bundaberg in Queensland on August 6th this year (2012). In accordance with his wishes, there was no funeral. We held a wake for him at the Railway Hotel in North Bundaberg. Joanna, Mark and I were joined by a couple of close family members and a few old friends. A wreath arrived from an old schoolmate who now lived in WA. 

It was a bitter-sweet occasion as we celebrated the life of our friend, father, brother, brother-in-law and partner in crime! Bill and I separated seven years ago but through ups and downs remained friends until the end of his life. I wanted to write this as it feels a bit like there is unfinished business as we lived here in southern Tasmania for nine years and became a family here with the birth  of our two children Joanna and Mark. Friends here have not had the chance to meet together to hear Bills story so I thought I could share it with you all this way.

Diagnosed with cancer in 1999, Bill often said it was the best thing that ever happened to him as it made him see what was really important in life. He devoted many years to following a natural heading regime which included fresh fruit and vegetable juices, meditation, exercise and keeping a positive healthy outlook. He outlived the doctors' predication by more than ten years by his dedication to that path. During those thirteen years and three months total, he had an impact on many peoples' lives, and that is what I'd really like to share with you.

We left Tasmania in 1997 full of plans to sail extensively under Minerva III's new junk rig, but the cancer diagnosis 18 months later put an end to our plans. We rented a place in Maryborough in Qld and whilst were there Bill volunteered his time to drive the bus for a disability group and enjoying picking up the clients and taking them to and from work and social functions. He kept fit and strong by riding his pushbike up to 40km a day. We eventually sold the boat and bought a property in Little Tinana near Maryborough. Bill planted fruit trees and created an extensive veggie garden and when we needed some big gum trees taken down he didn't fall them with a chainsaw but dug them out by hand. Although the soil was sandy, it was a mammoth task and one that drew stares of wonder from neighbours and friends!

After a few years there horses became a part of our lives and we needed to find a bigger property. It was then that we bought the 25 acres where Bill saw out his days. Sadly our relationship faltered around that time and I moved with the children to a small rented house in a nearby town. Over the next few years Bill sailed to the Solomon Islands crewing for an old friend Mike Taylor, and enjoyed  sitting chatting with the older islanders while he was there. He took a couple of trips to Thailand and a favourite photo was one of him with a massive tiger. 

He was involved with the local vegetarian group in Bundaberg and gave talks there about cancer and diet. Bill was always busy reading and learning more about cancer and was always willing to share his knowledge with others. He joined the WOOFAs group as a host and had many visitors who stayed and enjoyed the serenity of the property. The notes they wrote on the wall of the visitors' room show their appreciation for learning so much from him and for his ever-popular home brew!

Bill took on the task of caring for his aging mother, sharing the job with his sister Frances. They travelled from their homes in Queensland and NSW respectively and lived with her in Victoria on 2 months shifts for about 2 years. He applied the same principles of healthy lifestyle choices to caring for his mum, and her health improved significantly during that time but eventually she was moved into a nursing home. During those stays in the Yarra Valley Bill volunteered at the Gawler Institute, working in the gardens there, and was involved in a community project to help feed homeless and needy people. 

In March this year (2012) we gathered together to help Bill celebrate his 60th birthday. Joanna painted him an enormous and beautiful picture of the Minerva III based on a photograph taken back in 1998 as we sailed into Pearl Bay with the four of us on board. It was hung proudly on the wall of his home. Joanna completed the painting with Bill's input which ensured accuracy of the finer details. It was a special time for them both. 

Bill's sister and brother-in-law and our son, Mark cared for him for the last fifteen months of this life. He was forced to undergo emergency surgery in May 2011 and needed care from that time on. Whilst it was a difficult time, he tried to remain positive and kept planning a trip around Australia with horse and cart. His sister and brother-in-law are preparing to do the trip and take him with them in spirit. 

Bill, you were a 'trooper'. You were tough and determined and an amazing man in so many ways. 
As Brian said at the wake, you were just a humble boiler maker, but you did so much. Before I knew you, you had worked and travelled around the world and regaled us all with tales of those times.
You are missed and loved and you won't be forgotten. Rest in Peace."

Brian and Frances are currently travelling around the outback west of NSW and it's amazing to hear the tales of their journey. I think it's brilliant when ordinary people do extraordinary things; when people dare to do things differently or to march to the beat of a drum that the majority of us refuse to hear. They are the people that allow us all to dream. Today is a day of remembrance for me and for many others. It's also a day to look forward, to dream and to live a life that allows others to dream too.

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