I loved and enjoyed both my grandparents.
Grandpa was quite an eccentric, small wiry man, with a fierce intellect and curiosity. One of the first electrical engineers in Australia, he ran the powerhouse in Tamworth when it became the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to have electric street lighting, albeit in honour of the Prince of Wales’ visit. He built and installed the first x-ray equipment at Tamworth Hospital, (having got the plans sent out from America), where he became the honorary radiographer, simply because he enjoyed it. Later he and his young family of three children moved to Murwillumbah where he was in charge of the powerhouse there, significantly improving and increasing its output within the first ten years, training all the staff, and technicians himself.
Grandpa also had a few hobbies, as well as his radiography, which he also continued in Murwillumbah.
One of them was photography so he built his own enlarger out of a large Golden Circle pineapple tin. He also loved his garden and grew spectacular gladioli, )long before Dame Edna Everidge made them famous), winning prizes for them, invented numerous things, from a macadamia sheller and sorter through to electrical and chemical contraptions and formulae, all of which he gave away. Patents and business were things for other people who had a business head on their shoulders.
He preferred instead to spend his spare moments of every day on a variety of projects. He loved creating things in wood and improving and changing things around the home. He made an electric lawnmower, for which his sons were obliged to hold the lead to avoid him running over it. My uncle and the second eldest in their family, Rex, charged his friends money for the privilege and novelty of holding the lead instead of him.
There’s a story about another of my grandpa’s eccentricities. One day Theo decided the knobs on the top of the dining room chairs were ugly, so went to his workshop, got a saw, and sawed off the offending protuberances, much to his wife’s horror when she arrived home to find the alterations had taken place. To this day you can still see the saw marks on the tops of the chairs, although they look wonderful in our dining room.
Gardening, developing photos, inventing crazy gadgets around the home, playing with imported electric trains which ran around the lengthy verandahs on tracks laid in time for the boy’s bedtime, so fathers could play at being little boys, were all passions for Grandpa. He also loved making firework rockets.
This became a big event in the local area. Children from all over Murwillumbah were drawn like the mice by the pied piper to Grandpa’s treasure trove of a workshop and were immediately enlisted into action. Nobody came to watch. They all had a job.
Mum says her job, being the youngest in the family, was always to roll the long wicks, while others made the casings, the rollers for which Grandpa had designed and built himself. The stars and gunpowder came from China.
Every New Year’s Eve they would take the rockets, which stood taller than a man, down to Kingscliffe beach and let them off. One year he didn’t do it and the crowds who had always come to spectate were disappointed and said so. Thus a tradition began.
During World War II Grandpa turned his pyrotechnic skills to manufacturing emergency flares for the Royal Australian Navy. Having always been in a reserved occupation and too short for the trenches of World War I, this was a way in which he felt he could contribute to the war effort.
The best thing about Grandpa was his love of children. But that is not surprising for he never grew up himself. And when he died at 89 years young, he was remembered and regarded as a true Peter Pan.
And sadly, it was not until then that eyes turned to Grandma. at least, the grandchildren’s eyes. For she had been overshadowed by this enigmatic, energetic and centre stage performer.
My enigmatic grandfather was, in may ways, a man ahead of his time, but also very much a man of his time.
I remember him with great fondness and laughter, for he was anything but dull and, being a child himself at heart, always entertained us children, leaving us rolling around in laughter or totally transfixed by the magic that was grandpa.