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Our Fathers - 26 everyday heroes

Books & Poetry

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A discussion about fathers among former classmates at an Adelaide school 50th reunion provided the spark of an idea for a book dedicated to ordinary dads – or, as the subtitle calls them, “everyday heroes”.

Our Fathers, co-edited by Judy Macpherson Kent and Andrew Collett, sees 26 sons and daughters present a snapshot of the lives of their fathers, many of whom were returning from war in the 1950s or leaving Europe for a better life.

The stories, some of which are tinged with sadness, also tell the story of a particular time – perhaps a much simpler time – in Australian history, when the FE Holden was a family’s pride and joy, and beach picnics or going to the movies on Saturday were much-anticipated weekend highlights.

The following extract, which we are sharing to coincide with Father’s Day on Sunday, is by Judy Macpherson Kent, one of the former Linden Park Primary pupils whose discussion about the role of fathers in their lives led to this book.

Kent, who will be guest speaker at The Literary Club on September 16, had a close relationship with her father, Ross, who spent hours watching her play hockey, athletics and tennis. He also encouraged a love of languages in his daughter, who studied Honours Arts at Flinders University and now lives in Melbourne, where she consults to organisations through Melbourne Business School.

Ross and Judy Macpherson with the then ubiquitous FE Holden.

Ross and Judy Macpherson with the then ubiquitous FE Holden.

Ross Hector Macpherson (1918-2007)

I’m about to listen to a recording made by my dad in 1990. He died five years ago and I’m only just finding the courage to listen now. Why? Am I afraid I’ll find out things I should have known? Or that there’s nothing more to say? Might it destroy the myth I have of him or enhance it? Let’s begin.

Ross Hector was the youngest of four boys born to Edward John Macpherson and Ada Pearl Muriel Shaw at the end of World War One in 1918. The brothers, Murray, Raeburn and Wally, had a sister, Airlie, but she died of a childhood illness at about the age of two. Dad occasionally expressed regret at the death of the older sister he had never known and yet sometimes I wondered if he would have made it into the world if she hadn’t died. I also wondered if he had felt guilty about not being the replacement girl and whether this is why he had always maintained that he was so lucky to have had three daughters.

His parents were shopkeepers and I have vague memories of the smallgoods shop they ran in Adelaide’s inner-southern suburb, Westbourne Park. I can remember the flour and beans in sacks on the floor, the scales, and the jars on the walls, the musty smell, but not much more. It was set at the front of their house opposite the railway line on a large block which houses chooks, two sheep and a couple of tennis courts, one bitumen and the other lawn. All the boys and their wives were good tennis players and the extended family used to assemble there on Saturdays. In fact Andrew Collett’s mother, Peg Andrew, reminisced recently about playing tennis with the Macpherson boys before they went off the war; she even wrote them letters while they were away.

The Macphersons off on an adventure with TAA.

The Macphersons off on an adventure with TAA.

A few years later, after they had all married, the brothers kept up the tradition of Saturday afternoon tennis. After they had limed the lines and hung the net, they and their wives would play and laugh while we cousins roamed around the property, climbing the enormous gum tree and watching in horror as big cousin Rob put penny bungers in the ant holes on the crumbling bitumen of the second court. Sweet white tea in an oversized pot would be served into tin mugs during the break along with the numerous cakes and slices brought along by the women. As I write I can smell the gum leaves, the soil and the freshly cut grass and see the women in their white tennis dresses and hats, and the men in their long white pants and vests. Even though it was a family affair, customs were observed in those days.

While the parents broke for afternoon tea, we kids picked up their racquets and learned to play. Dad invariably sacrificed his break to hit us some balls, hence developing in us a growing passion for the sport. Dad’s brother Wally was President of the SA Lawn Tennis Association for many years and my sister Jan and I were overjoyed to be selected as usherettes for the Davis Cup (in those days girls couldn’t be ball girls!). I went on to play tennis for Beaumont Tennis Club and at Unley High School, Barbara Grimm, another 1962 Linden Park friend and I were an invincible double act when we played on Wednesday afternoons at Memorial Drive.

If that all sounds a tad idyllic, Sundays were another story when we were expected to go to church or Sunday School. My memories of Hawthorn Presbyterian are mixed. On the one hand there was the mad, unforgiving minister with out-of-control eyebrows preaching hellfire and damnation out of the pulpit while Dad’s brothers solemnly handed round the polished wood collection plates lined with purple felt. On the other, I remember Dad laughing about how he’d hope we kids would start crying so he could take us outside into the fresh air. And the friends I made in Sunday School and the Presbyterian Fellowship Association were enduring. My sister Jan even married the boy she met there when she was 14 years old. When I was approaching 13 Dad didn’t seem perturbed when I declined to be confirmed in spite of the fact that he and Mum had ‘taken the pledge’ not to drink or smoke in their 20s. That was the environment they grew up in. A God-fearing Scottish Presbyterian environment of stoicism, austerity, meanness of spirit and pessimism …

Extract and photos from Judy Macpherson Kent’s story in Our Fathers – Twenty-Six Everyday Heroes, edited by Macpherson Kent and Andrew Collett, published by Wakefield Press, $23.95.

Judy Macpherson Kent will be guest speaker at The Literary Club, Hayward Room, Public Schools Club, 207 East Terrace, on September 16.

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