At the end of December 2002 Mister Rabbit drove me out to Sutherland. I said at the time, and still say five to six years on, that this was one of the best days I have ever had. I told the story thus on New Years Day 2003:
Mister Rabbit wondered whether I would be writing up our day in Sutherland (and Sans Souci) beyond what I had to say on the day:
Yesterday was the most perfect day imaginable in the company of the best companion one could hope for.
First, let me repeat it was the best day I have had for a very long time, and part of what you need to know to understand that is that I have had an ongoing problem with agoraphobia; indeed on the outward journey I was chewing my fingernails rather a lot and willing my adrenalin to calm itself. The company certainly helped. The Rabbit’s driving was very competent, I should say — well, perhaps a tendency to have insufficient free space between his car and the one in front at times. 😉 Having been myself once rear-ended by a sneezing tupperware demonstrator in the Blue Mountains I am well aware of the issues of braking distance and traffic separation, but it is amazing how many drivers are overconfident about their chances of not crashing into the vehicle in front, should the unexpected occur. Tends to explain multiple pileups, a few of which I have seen on Elizabeth and Cleveland Streets in recent years. (I have been a driver, by the way, but not in recent years.)
Last Monday really was wonderful, and just what I needed. I can’t think of anyone else who would have enjoyed sharing it with me as much as The Rabbit obviously did. Aunt Beth (who was born in 1916) I had not seen since my mother’s funeral in 1996! She is, as The Rabbit reports, an extraordinary woman and definitely not in the realm of the bewildered yet. She can show a rather alarming hauteur sometimes, I have to say, but I always was something of a favourite nephew (with the soft spot partly coming from her closeness to what happened to my sister) and it was a sheer delight to see her again. Her stories were good, ranging from her nephew-by-marriage who deviously escaped the clutches of Colonel Gaddafi to her own flight from Northern Ireland to Scotland in the company of four IRA terrorists (a fact that became apparent only when the plane landed and was surrounded by soldiers.) True too. The Tower of London stories I will leave for the moment, but they are good. Oh, and Beth had recently visited Chipping Norton. (She still gets around.)
Roy and Kaye received us with great warmth, and my second-cousin Matthew and The Rabbit showed every sign of getting on like a house on fire. It was nice to see them all at something other than a funeral, as my cousin Russell remarked on the day. Mind you “like a house on fire” may have been an unfortunate choice there, as Russell’s family live in one of Sydney’s worst bushfire zones!
And Auburn Street really was a totally unexpected bonus. Mister Rabbit said that I “glowed.”
Mister Rabbit’s account
I had been looking forward to a trip down (N’s) memory lane for several weeks; what I didn’t expect was how the Sutherland (and surrounds) trip would affect me. I offer a generally chronological account of my 150km trip, about two-thirds of which was shared with my passenger.
Traffic up the Hume Highway and Parramatta Road was fairly light, and I got to Surry Hills in 45 minutes. We set out soon after, and made our first stop at Sutherland, where I met Uncle Roy and Aunt Kaye, and later their son Russell and grandson Matthew, who is a clever boy and a keen cricketer, and bears some resemblance to a younger N. There were some interesting stories — there’s a lot of talent in some families — and I began to get the flavour of N’s childhood.
Next stop was Woronora Cemetery. Neither of us had been for a while, but N found his relations in quick time. We left them some flowers, and trundled across the way, via the Greek Orthodox, to the Catholic section, where, after some searching, I found my grandfather, and his parents. All this took about an hour, and it was an emotional time for both of us.
Then we went for lunch. There is coffee in Sutherland, but I didn’t have any.
Then, to work off our sandwiches, we went for the longest walk of the day. We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.
“encroached by medium density housing”
We got back in the car and drove to Sans Souci to visit Aunt Beth, who I was prepared for by N’s reports of her alacrity. But nothing could have really prepared me for one of the most remarkable women I’ll ever meet. I’d only considered abstractly the notion of the elderly as living treasures; after yesterday, I have a concrete example. She told some amazing stories, and she’s immensely proud of her grandson Max, who I’d love to meet some day. We spent just 45 minutes, but there was never a dull moment!
By which time it was 4 o’clock. We stopped for petrol, and therefore could drive back to Surry Hills without fear of being stranded on Cleveland Street, which I imagine would be rather distressing. (In fact, the car stood up remarkably well for itself all day. I’m proud of the old Ox.) I left my car in a side street, hoping for the best; it was still there after a drink at the Norfolk and a light dinner at home. Traffic was light on the way back to my other home, where I arrived at about 7.
It was a wonderful day, and we’ll be planning similar excursions in the near future.
My gratitude to The Rabbit for this is absolutely undiminished. The differences of outlook and age that came later on do not alter that in the slightest. It was pure magic, that day. 🙂
Aunt Beth passed away in September 2007.
See also The Bard, A Rabbit, and Ninglun.
Updated with Windows Live Writer 27 April 2008.