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The year I started at Telopea, 1963, I was living the high life in a nine-square home in Novar Street, Yarralumla, with my parents Val and Lou and my younger brother Steve. The arrival of my sister Sarah strained the accommodation such that the family soon moved to the top of Monaro Crescent, Red Hill. The land was raw – this was before Hindmarsh Drive was built. Snakes were a problem. My father’s Yorkshire-born parents moved in with us in about 1967. After my grandfather died, we moved again, to Stonehaven Crescent, Deakin, where my parents still live. With the proceeds from the move, my Dad was able to buy a generous parcel of land in the Araluen Valley, on the rough road that winds from Braidwood to Moruya. From the mid-seventies we called the property Stevensmead. Mum and Dad and I looked after it together - fencing, clearing, burning off, mowing, planting, hand-watering and building - most weekends for forty years. There was no electricity or running water. We read by the light of kerosene lamps. At the end of every day’s work I’d sit on the verandah, playing the guitar and looking out over what we’d achieved. The air was soft. Half my self was bound up in the place. But earlier this year, we took the hard, necessary step of letting it go. The fireplace Peter Harris and I built still stands there, at the back of the old house, separate from it now.
At the end of high school I enrolled in an Arts degree at ANU, but I was restless. After my first year, I took off looking for adventure. I got a job as a dingo trapper and shooter with CSIRO, working mostly in the Northern Territory. I grew up pretty fast living in Alice Springs and in the field. My next move was to Sydney to share a house and work with Geoff Cannock in the auctioneering game. Returning to Canberra in 1972, I completed my arts degree and spent the next year in Wollongong getting a Dip Ed.
I was posted to teach English at Cobar High School, in northwest New South Wales. I lived with a bunch of other single male teachers on a station called Yarrawonga, where we helped out on the weekend as part return for board. It was a wild time. I don’t remember a lot of what I tried to impart, and I sometimes wonder if any of my students does. I know the poetry of Keats was involved. Most of the boys were headed for the mines – maybe some old miner down there still broods on the poignant contrast between the timelessness of the Grecian urn, and our own brief span. You never know.
I was helping to fight bushfires in Cobar at the end of 1974 when an unimaginable blow fell on our family. My younger brother Steve, who’d been studying mediaeval history and German part-time at ANU, had a car accident on the way home from his office Christmas party. As a result, twelve days later, he died. I moved home to be with my parents, and to help look after my sister, who was about to start high school. In 1975 I got a job in the Australian Public Service as an admin trainee. In a twenty-year period I worked in Attorney General’s, the Department of the Senate, the Public Service Board and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which took me in some interesting directions later. In 1978 I married Ros Delaney, my girlfriend from uni; we were together until midway through the 1980s, when I moved to my current home, in Farrer. I spent the Hawke and Keating years in the thick of the parliamentary action, as the Parliamentary Liaison Officer working closely with Mick Young (leader of the House) and Ben Humphreys, then the Government Whip. Ben was subsequently promoted to Minister for Veterans' Affairs and I was his Chief Of Staff for five years. A highlight of my time with Ben was accompanying sixty nonagenarian Gallipoli veterans back to the scene of the landing and battle. I went on to work in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs where my final assignment was to manage a program called Australia Remembers (commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War). For that I was awarded the Public Service Medal. Over the course of Australia Remembers, I worked with the educational media companies Ryebuck Media and Radio Wise. At the beginning of the Howard years I left the public service to liaise with the public sector on their behalf. That’s what I was doing until a couple of months ago, when I sold my property, made my will, got my affairs in order and started travelling.
It was while I was working in Ben Humphreys’s office that I was drawn like a ragged heap of iron filings to the magnetic Angela Reddy. Ange spent the final years of her career in Hobart, heading up the Tasmanian office of the Federal Department of Health, and we commuted for a long time before we committed. We got married at the end of 2009. She’s funny, clever, beautiful, a terrific organiser, very dedicated to family and friends, a great cook and a connoisseur of red wines. I need hardly say that life with her is sweet. As I write Ange has managed to drag me overseas, away from my family, my garden and my guitar. I always thought everything would fall apart if I went away. But as far as I know they’re all doing fine without me.