Forgive me for my self-indulgence. But just a week or two ago I lost my younger brother, Bruce, to cancer. Although I tried to talk to him every day his end was difficult and I felt inadequate dealing with his pain.
I feel I owe him a little more in trying to celebrate his life than I was able to give in those last days. This is my attempt to do justice to his memory.
We were born and raised in Charters Towers.
Bruce and I were the youngest in our family. We had three older siblings my sister Mary and brothers Bob and Arthur. Bruce and I were close in age and I was a mere year and ten days older than him.
My first recollections of Bruce were waiting for him to wake up in the mornings. As was the custom in those days my sister slept in an inside bedroom and all the boys slept on the verandah ( as indeed my parents did in the warmer months as well). My little bed was quite close to his cot and once he was awake I would crawl into the cot so we could play together,
And unsurprisingly because of our closeness in age we played a lot together. Not that we didn’t have the occasional spat. I remember him hitting me over the head with a shovel once that resulted in a few stitches in my scalp. But all in all we had a pleasant childhood and we were quite close and tended to grow even closer as we grew up.
My father loved the bush and would often take us out to walk in the bush with him. He would show us a hollow in a tree where a sugar glider lived or some prints of a Koala in a sandy creek bed. He was always on the lookout for beehives which he would rob for their honey. He also loved the Burdekin River. In the summer, on the weekends, he would take us swimming and occasionally to fish.
I can recall, when we were quite young, Dad taking Bruce and I camping on the river. (You might note that we never talked about the Burdekin River it was always just “the river” as if it was really the only river that counted!) Anyhow on this occasion Bruce managed to shoot himself a black duck. (I suspect it might have been the first duck he ever shot.) Dad in his inimitable way said, “Now that you’ve shot it, you must eat it. We don’t kill for no reason.” So we duly plucked and cleaned the duck and cut it into pieces. Then we put it into a billycan with a little water We might have added a potato or an onion although I am not sure. What I am sure of is that we had no seasoning or thickening for this makeshift stew. Suffice is to say that after simmering it for an hour or two over the campfire it was not the most palatable dish I have ever tasted. Although I thought it might, it didn’t seem to detract from Bruce’s enthusiasm for shooting wild ducks!
Once, I remember, we were walking around the Selheim scrub with Dad when we came across a very large sand goanna. The reptile was obviously startled and ran off at great pace. Bruce was just standing and watching. The goanna in its fright ran right up Bruce, to his dismay, as though he was a sapling. He gave a shriek causing the unfortunate animal to dismount and seek seclusion in the nearby scrub.
By this time Bruce and I had our first bikes. School was a fair distance away from where we lived, so when we started school Dad always ensured we had a bike to ride to school. Somehow or other he used to cadge a bike frame from somewhere and a wheel or two from somewhere else and he would put together a perfectly serviceable bicycle to ride to school. We normally used to ride to and from school together.
One day we were riding home together. A cyclone had just crossed the coast down at Bowen and consequently we were experiencing quite strong winds. It was quite exhilarating riding down New Queen Road with the wind at our backs. But then came the time we had to brake and turn into the laneway that led to our back gate. I stood as hard on my brakes as hard as I could and just managed to slow enough to negotiate the corner. But Bruce didn’t fare as well – his brakes were not very effective at all. He was going too fast to make the corner. He careered down the road to the next intersection that was far wider. Unfortunately he still couldn’t slow down enough to take the corner and he crashed into a terrible heap. I ran down to help him up. He had an awful, deep gash on his knee which was bleeding profusely. “Can you walk?” I asked. He put his weight on his legs and grimaced. “I think so,’ he replied. “Hurry home and get mum to bandage you up to stop the bleeding and I’ll look after your bike.” I was concerned about his injury but I needn’t have been for he soon recovered and was laughing at his misadventure.
Having our own bicycles not only enabled us to get to school but also provided us another degree of independence – we could ride our bikes to the river. There were many spots on the river we could easily cycle to that were perhaps twelve to fifteen miles from town. Mind you some of the roads were dirt and along their edges grew bullheads that could pierce bicycle tyres like they were tissue paper. (That caused a few dramas that I will have to leave unexplained in this short essay.)
One August school holidays Bruce and I decided to ride our bikes to one of our favourite fishing spots. The weather was rather cool which meant the bike trip was not too arduous. Before long we arrived at the river. We parked our bikes under a tree and I was surprised to see him scuttle away in a hurry to get down the bank and start fishing. But then I remembered that the best fishing spot was out at the end of a long log that had fallen in the water. There was only room for one at the end of the log and it seemed as though he was determined to beat me there. But it was not as easy as it sounds. The log was perhaps five or six metres long and at the far end the water lapped over it. Consequently there was a metre or two of the log that was covered with slippery green algae. In his haste to beat me to this favourable vantage point he slipped off the log and into the water. It couldn’t have been comfortable because it was a rather cool morning. With a little bit of spluttering he managed to clamber up the bank and found the sunniest place he could to dry off. He wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the day because I had laughed at his misfortune!
But we were quite young and as we grew older he hardly ever seemed to be upset about anything and was quite forgiving of me for any unfortunate misdemeanour I afflicted on him.
About this time my father was incapacitated by chronic asthma. Consequently he no longer had the capacity to indulge us with walks in the bush or trips to the river. To his enduring credit our older brother, Bob, stepped up and, almost as a second father, took Bruce and I under his wing and most weekends would take us fishing or camping down to the much-loved river. These were fabulous times and I know Bob in Bruce’s last days reminisced fondly about those wonderful experiences. I myself when talking to Bruce would also recall those marvellous times to his great joy. These times in our early youth were particularly special to us.
But inevitably we grew older. Bruce became stronger than me and after the age of about twelve I could no longer beat him in an arm wrestle. But he could never beat me at running. Bruce and I were still very close and often played cricket and football together. (Bruce loved cricket to the end. He was a great fan of Usman Khawaja. It was a great disappointment to me that he died just a day or so before Usman was named player of the recent series against Pakistan. Bruce would have liked that.)
After High School I went on to university attending the James Cook University College studying Engineering. I continued to play football as a representative of the University’s Junior (under 21) team in the Townsville competition. When there was not a game to play in Townsville I would go home for the weekend. On one such weekend Bruce told me that the local young fellows had organised a “scratch match” and I had been invited to play as fullback if I wanted to in the same team as he. Well that was an offer I couldn’t refuse and we made our way to Mt Carmel College who had generously offered up one of their fields for us to play on.
Bruce was playing in the front row. The game had been going only perhaps five minutes when the first scrum was called. I took my position defensively at the back as the other side fed the scrum. But before the ball could emerge from the scrum an almighty brawl erupted. Concerned for Bruce’s welfare I ran towards the melee only to find him sitting on the ground amongst the brawling players. I asked Bruce what had happened. He told me that the team captain, Brian, a big fellow who was a friend of my brother Bob, had suggested to Bruce that he should give his opposite number an uppercut once the scrum had formed! It seemed no surprise that this provoked the brawl. It dawned on me as I looked around that only he and I were not fighting. I tell this story because it was so uncharacteristic of Bruce. I know he would fight tooth and nail to defend his family and friends but he was essentially a gentle man with very little malice in him. Anyhow this particular game only lasted another five or ten minutes before the referee walked off in disgust declaring the players were impossible to control.
But Bruce was also a resourceful fellow. To give you an example Bruce and his then fiancée Chris, and me and my then fiancée Val, decided we would go camping for a few days on the Fletcher. The camping spot was a kilometre or two from its junction with the Burdekin. In those days the last kilometre or so of the road was merely a goat track through a myriad of basalt rocks. Bruce’s proudest possession at the time was an old Ford Customline sedan. So we all duly poured into the car and set off. But the old Customline was very low to the ground and as we approached our destination we grounded on a basalt boulder. When we finally got to the camping spot Bruce decided it would be prudent to inspect under the car to see if any damage had been done. He found that the impact with the rock had damaged the petrol tank and resulted in a small weep of petrol from the tank which we could easily smell. We debated whether we should turn around and go home before we ran out of petrol. But Bruce would have none of that. “Let’s see if we can fix it,” he said. He grabbed a bar of soap and with his pocket knife shaved a considerable amount into a pannikin. He added a few drops of water and stirred the soap until he had a thick paste. He got under the car and smeared the paste on to the tiny leak in the petrol tank which temporarily ceased the petrol drip. The he went to his tool box. He found an old tube of adhesive (Bostik I think it was called).The tube was empty but nevertheless he cut it open with his pocket knife and there was still a residual of the adhesive on the sides of the tube. He opened the tube up and trimmed it and stuck it over the soap paste. “Let’s see how that goes,” he said. We checked the patch a few times and the petrol leak seemed to have been stopped. Consequently we stayed on and had an enjoyable camping trip. Bruce confided in me a few years later that when he had eventually sold his beloved Customline the patch was still there on the fuel tank!
Well time moved on and Bruce duly completed his apprenticeship and gained his qualification as a fitter and turner. I in turn graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. As I recall I was working on the Collinsville Project (a project to build and commission a Power Station at Collinsville, which I later managed) where I had been given the responsibility of managing the cabling contract. In those days, my employer who was by then the Northern Electricity Authority had a very good programme for the development of their junior engineers. But I was somewhat taken aback when I was summoned to appear before the Chief Engineer. “Well Ted,” he began, “We are pleased enough with your progress in the technical side of your profession. But now we would like to give you some exposure to management. The Manager of the Townsville Power Station is about to take long service leave. Now we want you to act in the capacity of Manager while he is away for the next three months.” Being a junior engineer I immediately realised that this was not something up for negotiation so within a week or two still in my very early twenties I was the Acting Manager of Townsville Power Station. I would have been more grateful for the opportunity except for the fact that Bruce was still working there, which made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. To make it worse Bruce and I lived together in a flat in Townsville.
I gritted my teeth determined to do my best. And everything went well until one day after a tour of the plant, I walked into the workshop. There was Bruce working on a lathe and to my horror he was wearing no eye protection. Well what to do? Should I just walk by and pay no attention? In the end I just walked up to him and said quietly, “Bruce, put some goggles on.” He merely looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and put on a set of goggles that were hanging over his workbench. When I got home I approached Bruce and said, “Sorry I had to chip you this morning.” He just looked at me and smiled. “You were just doing your job,” he said. “Besides,” he continued, ”If you show me any favouritism the blokes will give me a hard time. When you are at work forget that I am your brother and treat me no differently to anyone else.” After that little exchange I felt more comfortable at work.
Bruce completed his trades apprenticeship as a fitter and turner and later on qualified as an A grade motor mechanic. He also studied externally to gain qualifications as a teacher. He was always prepared to have a go at something new. He for a time ran a garage, owned a concrete batching business, worked for the Townsville Power Station, the Copper Refinery in Townsville, the local shire, was a manual arts teacher at Mt Carmel College, worked on maintenance contracts at mines and a host of other things.
Bruce married his childhood sweetheart, Christine Turner. I don’t believe he had an interest in any other girl. They had two children Tanya and Alistair. A couple of weeks ago Chris told me that I had once said to them that I didn’t know why they married because they seemed so incompatible. I don’t remember saying that but it was quite likely that I did. If I did I showed pretty poor judgment because at the time of his passing they had been together for more than fifty years.
Bruce and Chris lived in Townsville for a few years after they were married but before long headed back to Charters Towers. (I suspect Bruce needed to be back near his beloved Burdekin.)
Chris had a career in politics and was for a time the local member in the State Parliament.
But unfortunately my career took me away and in recent decades I didn’t spend as much time with Bruce as I would have liked. His terminal illness was a great shock to me because he was always a robust person who seemed almost invincible to me.
He was blessed to have a devoted wife like Chris. She managed the last traumatic twelve months of his life with stoicism and devotion. I cannot overstate my admiration for her.
My father loved musicals. He loved those works of yesteryear like The Merry Widow, The White Horse Inn, Lilac Time and so on. I remember going with him and my mother to see the movie version of The Student Prince starring Mario Lanza. One of Lanza’s hits from that movie was called Golden Days.
Let me share the words with you.
In the sunshine of a happy youth
Full of gaiety and full of truth
In our hearts we remember them all else above
Days of youth and love
How we laughed
With the joy that only love can bring
Looking back through memory’s eyes
We will know life has nothing sweeter than its springtime
Golden days, when we’re young
Now I have had a very fortunate life. There were many triumphs and of course some disappointments in my career. But let me tell you that I have no fonder memories than the times I shared with my younger brother in our youth and early adulthood. Thank you Bruce for helping to create some fabulous “golden days”, the memories of which I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Vale/ Bruce Scott. Good man! Great brother!