This was significant enough to cause massive changes in our Family’s lives…
My Dad was a proud man, well respected in the community. He was a hard worker, he had to be, he had supported his family ever since he was fourteen when his Dad had Hydatids and had a lung removed and the other cleaned. He was devoted to Walter, even though he was not his biological father. My grandmother Minnie had died when I was just a baby, so Walter was a widower raising two kids on his own, while still working orchards and with a shorter leg from childhood polio.
I remember an instance when Walter was coming up to our property, he had a big black Crysler Royal car. I was helping Dad as he was digging out a deep tree root from our driveway. The hole was deep enough to hide us both, and as I heard the car I popped my head up out of the hole. Walter told Dad if it had not been for me he would have run us both over.
Walter was organising for Dad’s brother Geoffrey to come and live with us as he was not well. Geoffrey is only six years older than me, back then he was still a boy. Our house was very small, but we all managed to fit in. My cousins had the orchard next door and they had slightly older children, so Geoff fitted in well.
Dad had called in, to see his father who lived just down the road, as he was passing on his way to work. He was not well, barely able to chop wood for a fire. Dad instructed him to stay warm in front of the fire and not to go to work and he would see him in the afternoon. Of course, my Pa, who was always a hard worker, could not say no to his boss and helped him out that day. By the time Dad had returned he was absolutely exhausted and looking very grey.
Dad rushed him down to the family Doctor, but it was too late, he died in the surgery. All the doctor wanted was for Dad to get him out of there. They called my Uncle to come and help, while Dad carried his father out to the car, not knowing what to do, he had to drive around until someone opened the morgue. It really hurt Dad, then he had to deal with the rest of the family including his little brother.
Things only got worse, Dad had to dig his father’s grave over at our Church, then the Priest realised Dad’s Mother was not in the right spot, so he had to dig up her grave and place it with his Father after his service before they could cover the grave. It had been buried about a few years before and Dad had to deal with the emotional stress of all of this.
He changed, he became angry, he would lash out at us, he even hit Mum. Then one day it all became too much, somehow he ended up on the Huonville football oval in his car going round and round and round. Not even his best mate, who was in the Police force could stop him and even when he ran out of fuel, he just sat there behind the wheel. They all knew what he had been through, but he still had to repair the football ground.
It was not until his elders at the Masonic Lodge finally got through to him, that he settled down, but we had to live through the nights where he would come home drunk and belt into Mum. I remember one such night and the four of us kids jumped on Dad’s back and he sat on the floor and cried. He finally realized what he had been doing. Dad’s Grandfather Roberts had built the Huonville Masonic Lodge and was the first President and a lot of his distinguished family were part of this secret group.
Soon after Dad went fishing, he had built the concrete wells in his mates fishing boat and was offered a chance to go fishing with him. These trips would last for a week. The first time my Gran came and stayed, but the second time we were alone. I was in my early teens and when I came home after school I found my Mum all battered, her eyes so swollen she could not see. I sent my sister to get help. Dads Uncle tried to rape her and when she refused he beat her until she managed to ran away. This man was a champion boxer in his day. Dad’s mates took us in while Mum was rushed to hospital and the boat was notified by radio as to what had happened.
Dad stayed home after that, installing wood and oil heaters among other things. He was a bit of a tinkerer and one afternoon in his workshop the engine he was working on exploded into flame and Dad was also alight. His natural instinct was to run for the dam. I seen him from the kitchen window, pushing poor Mum aside I grabbed a towel near the stove and ran after him. Luckily he had tripped while jumping the fence and rolled in the grass putting himself out, but the smell…
Dad Mum and I jumped into the ute, I was just learning to drive, but Dad insisted he had to drive, but on the way to the Doctors he was getting faint so here we are, I am steering the car from the center seat, while Dad is still behind the wheel. The Doctor is treating Dad, while I was outside, when I noticed smoke up on the hill coming from the workshop. Even though the Doctor insisted Dad had to go to hospital, we rushed home while the surgery called the Fire-brigade.
The shed was well alight, my friend from next door had noticed the smoke and was there rolling big drums of fuel away from the shed, the heat was so intense Dad had to take shelter behind the house. Soon half the Huon was up there, the road was blocked, the fire truck had gone to the wrong David Roberts and a second one had to be called, Dad’s mate the Police Man had arrived and eventually he talked Dad into going to hospital and drove him there. My friend said it has started in the ceiling, where all the dry timber was racked, obviously from the engine fire earlier and once it took hold that was that.
It took weeks for Dad to recover, friends and family helped us out with food and transport. As soon as my Dad was well enough my Uncle took my parents real-estate hunting in town and he offered Dad plenty of work renovating his Business houses. He even stood personal guarantor for the bank. We had no idea all this was going on, I was at work by then and the kids were still in school.