Category Archives: things my Father taught me

A Life Lesson Learned

A Life Lesson Learned

A memoir of P.M. (Phil) Green

“Cymru am byth” (“Wales Forever”)

“It was in that moment that Phil learned about quiet strength, loyalty, steadfastness, love, and how to be a man”.

In the late 1950s, Russell Totham and Phil Green lived at Heybridge, almost beside the Blythe River, which flowed to Bass Strait, between Burnie and Penguin on the North West coast of Tasmania.

It was a small hamlet of around 30 houses, with one general store at the junction of Cuprona Road, and what was then known as the Bass Highway. This store was owned and operated by the Brewtnall family, comprised of Mr. and Mrs. Brewtnall, their three boys, Andrew, Jamie, and a slightly disabled boy, and a daughter, Julie.

The one garage, was on the opposite corner from the general store, and was owned and run by a Mr. Dick, who would recharge 12-volt car batteries for three-pence each.

Russell’s home was on the corner of River Avenue and Anne Street, while Phil lived directly to the rear of Russell’s house. At that time River Avenue was the Bass Highway, and Anne Street was a cinder-topped lane known as King’s (or Kelly’s) Lane because of King’s (Kelly’s) Trucking at the far end.

The boys were about 14 years old, and had been best friends since Phil’s family had moved there from Sheffield about 5 years previously.  Prior to that Phil’s mother, Rose, and older brother, Chris, had migrated to Sheffield from Cardiff in Wales, in December 1953, to join the husband, and father, Bill or Will, Green, who had been preparing their new life for them since about eighteen months previous to his family’s arrival.

In Sheffield, Bill had worked as a store-man driver for the Don Company, a general merchandiser. On moving to Heybridge, Bill worked in the Sales Office of the Australian Pulp and Paper Mills in Burnie (APPM), and Rose was in sales, in the “showroom” of the Don store in Russell went to Ulverstone for his schooling, while Phil went to Burnie for his.

They were carefree times for these boys, and both were decent lads, who also knew how to do things of which their parents would not approve; and they had the knack of not getting caught doing them.

In summer, they would play in the Blythe River, swimming, and diving from a large rock. They used the nearby railway bridge as a jumping platform, and would walk out on it to a position high above deep water.

The train-drivers would sound their horn, and curse at them, as they jumped off just before the train passed beside them.

Russell didn’t swim really well, and would gasp and splutter as he came back to the surface, and then dog-paddle back to shore to do it all over again. They sometimes hitchhiked to Burnie to play beneath Jones’ pier, climbing around and exploring in places where they were unseen.

They were not doing anything actually wrong, but it could have been a dangerous pass-time, as they may have slipped, banged their head, and been drowned beneath the timbered pier without anyone knowing.

In the evenings they would regularly climb out of their bedroom windows after having been sent to bed, and would cross the lane to wake each other for the evening’s antics, and then climb in again when they returned safely home.

Having met up, they would hitch-hike to the small group of houses at Chasm Creek, three miles to the West, and then hitch-hike from there to the somewhat larger hamlet of Sulphur Creek, which was a further three miles to the East from their homes. They would do this, back and fore, many times each evening until they eventually tired, and returned to the security of their beds.

Sometimes, during the day, and apart from playing with their toy cars in the ditch-gutter, and climbing trees, they would walk up into the bush on the hill to roll tree-bark in newspaper and then try to smoke it as a cigarette – it was profoundly unsuccessful enterprise!

On one or two occasions they had somehow obtained some cigarettes, Phil thinks he may have stolen them from Bill, his dad.  A half-completed house further up the lane was an excellent hide-away, and they would go there in the evenings to sit on the bare joists to smoke the illicit cigarettes.

Naturally, they coughed and spluttered, but they thought they were so very clever and grown up.  Russell never did take up smoking, but Phil did when he was sixteen and had commenced his printing apprenticeship at The Advocate newspaper’s commercial printing section in Burnie.

On other evenings they would hitch-hike to Burnie, and depending on where they had been dropped off by the generous motorist, would jog down to Best’s Billiard Parlour above the book-makers’ rooms on the corner of Wilmot Street, and Alexander Street.

There they would play snooker and billiards on the seemingly enormous, slate-topped, green-felted tables, before hitchhiking home again later in the evening. The billiard parlour was a dusky, smokey, and somewhat dingy, environment, and they were never questioned as to their age by the proprietor.

Mr. Best merely wanted their money for their playing of the tables. With the benefit of hindsight, the boys now realise that they could easily have been abused or worse.

The social times then were very different, and people were much more trusting, open, and indeed, somewhat indifferent, to any dangers, either perceived or real. The individuals who patronised Mr. Best’s establishment were ‘salt of the earth’ type men from backgrounds of working occupations such as stevedores on the Burnie wharf, and machinists and labourers from the Burnie Associated Pulp and Paper Mills, the Titanium Dioxide plant, or miners from the West coast.

However, the parents of both boys would have considered this place to be a particularly distasteful ‘den of iniquity’; but their parents didn’t know they were there, as the boys were trusted to have been safely asleep in their own beds.

Somewhat perversely, that address is now the site of a “Christian Book Shop”.

Phil attended Burnie Primary School, which was opposite the then Star theatre in Mount Street. While in Grade 6, sometimes at school lunchtimes , he and two other boys, ‘Tank’ Britain, and Stuart Metcalf, would run to the billiards parlour a block away from the school.

This parlour was at the rear of Cameron’s Furniture Store in Wilson Street, about 100 yards south from its junction with Cattley Street. The three boys would play snooker, and billiards, while also eating their lunch sandwiches. They would then run back to school in time for the afternoon school-starting bell.

The site of that pool-hall was nearly opposite the current Post Office, and is now the location of the Burnie Council Chambers.

In Heybridge, the unsealed road to Cuprona traversed the hill at the rear of Phil’s house. In addition to making cubby-houses in the depths of the coarse Tea Trees on the hill, Russell and Phil had discovered a ledge some two inches wide, about two feet long, and about twenty feet up the cut-away of the hill on the first hairpin bend in the road.

It was fun, and exciting, to slip-slide up the nearly vertical face, to where they could sit with their bottoms perched uneasily on the tiny shelf. From there they could look down upon, and watch, the passing traffic. If their parents had known, they would have both been smacked, as it was an extremely dangerous thing to do, for if they had fallen, it would have been directly under the wheels of any passing vehicle.

In spring, high-loaded, open-sided trucks, carrying pea-vines, would trundle down the unsealed road, raising billowing clouds of white dust. These trucks were carrying their load of peas, still on the vines, to the Edgell factory in Gawler, for separation from the vines, podding, and canning.

The boys would hide in the scrub, or ditch at the side of the road, and as the trucks dustily manoeuvered down the hill they would run out to the back of the truck from where they could pull armfuls of vines from the load without being seen by the driver.

As this method of “pea liberation” worked well, they improved their ‘catch’ by tying ropes to garden rakes, throwing the rakes into the open back portion of the load, and snagging off more peas than they could do simply by hand. Those bundles of pea vines were taken home, to the enormous delight of their mothers. The peas would be separated from the vines, and podded, at the kitchen table.

Phil’s mother, Rose, would say, “That’s very naughty of you Philip, but never mind, let’s pod them and cook them right now”.

She would cook them in boiling, salted water and dish them up in bowls, to eat them steaming hot with spoons, and with lashings of butter. Phil’s father, Christopher William (Bill or Will) always picked the first of any crop from his garden for Rose. She especially delighted in cooking Bill’s “new” potatoes, again, with nothing else but loads of butter.

One bright summer’s day, for some unremembered reason, Russell and Phil chased Brian Beswick, who lived further up the lane, along with some other boys, into Brian’s backyard. These two friends had always had a running feud going with the Beswicks and their friends.

There was no particular reason for the feud; it was something that just seemed to happen in the world of ‘us against them’.

Brian and his mates threw something, probably stones, at Russell and Phil over their own back fence, which prompted Russell to pick up a piece of tree-branch probably 10 inches long and 1½ inches thick that was lying on the ground, and throw it towards the other boys, and, as it happened, it hit one of Brian’s legs.

Phil and Russell immediately realised that they would probably be in trouble for that, and quickly raced back to the refuge of their own homes about 100 yards away down the lane at the rear of the other houses.

Russell darted inside his house, and as Phil didn’t know quite what else to do, sat in his driveway and commenced drawing circles in the dust.

It was not very long before Mr. Beswick made his entrance, striding along the lane from the back of his house toward the front of Phil’s house. He walked with strong, firm, and definitely resolute, steps, and arrived at Phil’s house just as Phil’s father came out to stand at the front, in the sunshine, while taking a short rest from his building of their weather-board home.

Bill’s trousers were held up with a length of baling twine because he would not spend money unnecessarily on belt or braces when it was more important for the family to have food than for him to have a belt.

As he stood there in the dirt driveway about six feet from Phil, Mr. Beswick arrived and said to Bill, “Your son threw a piece of wood at my boy and hit him with it”.

Phil’s dad looked down at Phil sitting in the dust and asked, “Did you do that Phil?”

The boy shook his head and said, “No Dad”, because to his young mind it was not actually him that had thrown the stick, so for Phil, it was a truthful answer to the question.

Bill looked at Mr. Beswick with a strong, quiet, face, raised his eyebrows, and cocked his head, as if to say, “That’s that then”.

Mr. Beswick said, “Well then, he knows who did do it”.

Bill looked at Phil and said, “Do you?”

Phil said, “Yes Dad”.

Mr. Beswick said, “Well who was it?”

Again, Bill looked at Phil quizzically, and said, “Are you going to say who it was?”

Phil said, “I don’t want to say, Dad”.

It was abundantly obvious to all in the district, that Phil and Russell were always together, and that if it hadn’t been Phil, then it must have been Russell who had thrown the wood.

With that, Phil’s father spread his arms from his sides, palms up, shrugged, and looked at Mr. Beswick, again with an open, blank, but understanding face, which clearly indicated that the conversation was over.

Mr. Beswick made a sound like “Harumph”, turned on his heel, and walked off in the direction from which he had come.

Phil’s dad half turned, looked down at the boy, winked, and without another word, walked leisurely back up the drive to their house.

Phil’s dad never mentioned the incident again.

It was in that moment that Phil learned about quiet strength,

loyalty, steadfastness, love, and how to be a man.”

Thanks Dad.

A Woman’s Story

Once upon a time there was a peculiar woman. She had two arms and two legs. Two hands and two feet. She had long curly hair and blue eyes, two ears, one nose and a mouth that sometimes smiled.

The woman looked like anyone else on the outside, but inside she was different. Inside her lurked two people. The light and the dark.

She was Irish, she was Scottish, she was Australian, she was Tasmanian. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunty and a wife.

Once, she had been a loyal friend to a few people she truly admired but that was gone now. Now she enjoyed friendship in little crumbs that passed her way from time to time.

She had been a good daughter to her parents, a loving and loyal sister to her brothers. She would have done anything for her family. She had been a good student, completing her studies to Year 12. At the age of 18, she decided against university and instead embarked on a life of travel. She travelled to numerous countries in the world, experienced amazing places and interesting people . On her travels, she discovered her heart belonged to Ireland and since has always yearned to go back to claim it. She worked hard and lived independently. Built her own house and paid her own bills.

She had high ideals, she wanted to save the world, or at the very least, to make it a better place for her having visited. Sometimes she was very proud of what she had achieved on her life’s journey.

She chose one man to share her life journey and he chose her. She loved him and was loyal to him. He loved her but his love could be conditional. His was a difficult and disturbed childhood and in his late 20’s he was diagnosed with depression. When he was not pleased with the world, or himself, he would withdraw his love from her for days on end. He would blame her for all he despised in the world. This would hurt her very deeply and under this pressure over a period of years, something within her cracked.

Not her love for him. Not her faith in him. But after many years she came to believe that everything wrong in their world was her fault, because she was not smart enough, pretty or witty enough. In the course of a normal day, she may have done 50 little things to make him happy or his life comfortable, but if she forgot to do one thing, he would make her feel as though she were a complete failure. That she was lazy and useless. So she tried harder, and harder and harder.

He was not a cruel man. He was not always affected by the depression, but it did come upon him regularly, even when he was receiving treatment. When all was well he could be kind and compassionate, thoughtful and funny, fiercely intelligent and creative. She was the only one who knew of his dark side. He kept his depression hidden from the world and only showed his true nature when he was with her.

Together they had healthy, smart and imaginative children. She worked herself hard to provide everything they needed, day and night. Her hair went grey and thinned, her eyes became dull, her skin tired and her body went soft. When she was young, she would be complimented on her bright blue eyes often. Now, she couldn’t remember the last time anyone paid her a compliment about anything. She was no longer lovely.

She forgot herself. Who she was. Who she had been. Over time, she became just a shadow of herself, and that made him even more disappointed in her. Where was the girl he knew? She had been so quirky, bright and shiny. She was washed out with the dishwater. No longer did they talk for hours on shared interests and ideas. No longer did they laugh or just cuddle.

The cyber world became his best friend, and he tended to this world every minute the day would allow. She could not compete with this world, but she stayed as close to him as she could, in case there was a chance for conversation or friendship.

At night, when the children were asleep, she sat watching tv or writing her novel and he sat in front of the computer, just browsing the internet. Sometimes he would walk through the room on his way to the kitchen and get angry at her because he thought a program she was watching on tv was rubbish. Then he would return to his cyber world thinking she was stupid and feeling justified at leaving her alone again.

She had become the person who collected dirty clothes off the floor throughout the house. She washed clothes, hung them to dry, folded and put them away. She wiped up dirty toilet floors and dirtier toilet bowls. She wiped dirty bottoms, vacuumed and swept floors. She took the blows and punches of angry children. Washed dirty dishes 3 and 4 times a day. Cooked meals that no-one ate. Washed windows. Fed animals. Moved furniture. Bathed children, packed school lunches and ironed business shirts. She was screamed at daily, was umpire to countless arguments and took the blame for things she did not do.

Good and caring friends slipped away as she didn’t have the time to nurture them. They lived in the country, and most days, the only adult contact she had was a one minute chat with the grocery delivery man. Their budget did not allow her to attend classes, pursue hobbies or pay for childcare.

She lost her passion. Her passion for him and her passion for life. She was too tired to feel passion and he hated her for it. He punished her for it, withdrawing all affection. He wouldn’t touch her, wouldn’t soothe her. He wouldn’t talk to her or look her in the eye. When she tried to talk to him, he would pretend to listen as he busied himself doing something else or walking out of the room.

She tried to find herself, to feel passionate about the universe again. She tried many new things, becoming heavily involved in community events, teaching herself to sew and knit. She wrote a fictional novel, grew food and tended her flower garden. All things she could do at the home, close to the children and him.

In her heart she wished she could sing, dance, paint or illustrate, speak in languages other than her own or write something so meaningful it would make the world a better place. But she had no talent for these things. She desperately wished to discover some creativity in herself, hoping if she had something to offer the world, her life might be worthwhile after all.

She tried very hard to make new friends, although she felt she was a fraud. Smiling, laughing, sharing anecdotes and chatting about local happenings, all the while knowing she was worthless and boring and only doing it so that her children would have people to care for them in the community if something should happen to her. After visiting with people, she would be exhausted at the effort of pretence. She wondered why anyone would want to talk to her and was not surprised when the phone never rang. Few invitations came her way. Some days she disconnected the phone so she didn’t have to talk to anyone in the outside world.

She went to her GP and told him that she felt she wanted to drive her car over the mountain cliff. That she felt her family would be better off without her, that they would no longer carry the burden of their useless mother and partner.

The GP gave her some tablets to make her feel better.

The tablets helped, and she had more good days than bad, but sometimes she still felt like driving off the mountain or getting in the car and driving away from everyone forever.

BUT… there was one thing that always stopped her from leaving, even briefly. One thing so deeply ingrained in her psyche that would not allow her to leave her children however desperate she felt. Her father. The memory of her father. This immensely talented man, sacrificed greatness to provide for his family and be a strong, reliable and honourable father. He left school at age 15 to provide for his mother and sisters. He should have gone to university, he could have been so many things, an illustrator, a painter, a writer, an engineer, a boat builder, a teacher or doctor, but he wasn’t, he was a bus driver and a wise man. A self-taught man, reading books constantly throughout his life to gain the knowledge he did not achieve through schooling. He was not in the least bitter for his losses. He was the most gentle, modest and compassionate of men. All went to him for advice and solace in times of trouble and for knowledge of all things great and small. He suffered from depression in his later years but did not want to ‘burden’ others with his pain. He worked hard his entire life and provided for his children who each grew to make positive contributions to society.

The lessons she learned from her father were countless and cosmic and even though he had been dead for 10 long years, his memory encouraged her on dark days to keep putting all the pieces of herself back together.

For all the emptiness she felt in herself, she loved her life. It was difficult to understand, how in such emptiness one could feel so fortunate. How, even on the blackest of days, she can still know how wonderful her life is. She can know it, but not feel it.

She loved her home and her community, and was thankful every day for her good fortune. For all the years of living with his depression, she loved and respected her mate. She would keep her promise to stay faithful to him until her dying day.

In her confusion, one thing she knew for certain, her love for her children was immeasurable. She would do anything for them, give anything of herself for them, and most of all, she would never let them down.

She makes the most of good days, laughing and playing with the kids and providing a strong role model for them. Contributing to their community, helping people, working hard in the garden and teaching them life skills and resilience.

She tells herself…

a loving mother who is crying while chopping veges for dinner is better than no mother at all.

a loving mother who does not have the self-confidence to volunteer at the school canteen is still better than no mother at all.

a loving mother with grey hair and sad eyes is still better than no mother at all.

an imperfect mother is better than no mother at all.

So, from one generation to the next, and like her father before her, she will try every day to be the best person she can be and hope to leave a legacy to her children of resilience, integrity and compassion.


Written in 2010

Learning to Drive

My Dad was an excellent driver. The best. He drove public transport buses in Sydney, then Canberra, for 40 years and never once in that time did he have an accident.

He never scratched another vehicle, never received a parking ticket or a speeding ticket. He was a cautious and courteous driver who was well respected amongst his peers.

He kept every car during his life (and he had a few…) in pristine condition. Inside, outside and under the hood. He was a perfectionist.

I remember when I was a kid, my Dad was giving my older brother driving lessons. Needless to say, he imposed extremely high standards.  He expected us all to be impeccable drivers, and learning to drive an automatic was not an option, we had to learn on a manual gearbox.

Dad expected my brother to change gears so smoothly that his passengers didn’t even feel it. To test this, during the driving lessons, my Dad would ride in the backseat and put our black kelpie dog named Snoopy on the front passenger seat.


Snoopy would never sit when he rode in a car, he always stood up looking out the window. So Dad would sit in the backseat and watch Snoopy as my brother changed gear.

If Snoopy stumbled, or worse, fell at the gear change, Dad considered that a massive fail and the two men would be cranky with each other for the rest of the day.

If Snoopy stood comfortably during gear changes, Dad was satisfied. Not happy, not proud, just satisfied.  This might sound harsh, but if a perfectionist is satisfied with what you have achieved, you know you’re doing pretty well!

As for Snoopy, he just enjoyed going for a ride in the car!

Stuart Maxwell.


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