He really liked draught horses, especially Clydesdales. He admired their majestic stature, their hard working tenacity and their sheer physicality. There is a photograph of him astride a tall horse. A teenager sent to help relatives in the country in hard times. Dad had strength. Throughout his life he pushed and pitted himself to take on physical challenges. When he was younger he ran, embraced athletics, played hockey and cycled including on a bike with no brakes, on road trips, blatant energy and symbolism at play.
There was always bushwalking and mountain climbing. A constant his entire life, until he could no longer. Walking trips loosened a tight valve. There was satisfaction in organising the preliminaries for a trip away. The planning, the equipment to be placed in order, the careful calculated packing. He had a history seeped in scouting and being with a bushwalking group…being with men. It was all girls at home.
But Dad did take us camping and bushwalking too. We camped on the High Plains one time and we saw the brumbies, the wild horses, sniffing the air at us from a careful distance. Dad didn’t approve of the brumbies being there, it was not their natural habitat but he had a grudging respect for them. For their wildness and their strength and disdain of ownership.
I understood that brumby wariness and being out of place. But that glaring admiration and that begrudging respect was not extended to me but the feeling of disapproval was certainly present. Always.
He was a cerebral man, immersed in the sciences. Science could solve everything, or most things. Physics and chemistry were applied to household and outdoor tasks. The law of physics was applied to many major tasks. Things needed to be moved. Problems needed to be solved. Chemical formulae was applied both inside and outside the house. He took great pride in maintaining his home. Later he maintained us when we lived elsewhere. Dad was always fixing things. Fixing us. Words weren’t delivered then but the sense of responsibility, duty and care needed to be translated from the doing. Dad fixed things and people regardless. He always knew best.
At the end in a morphine haze he was seeing horses. Blue horses, he said, emerging from the overly cheery beachside painting on the hospital wall. We replaced the painting with a photograph from the High Plains. It was a picture we had come to realise that was strategically viewed from his bedroom at home. It was in his line of sight. Dad needed the High Plains.
He struggled. He didn’t want to go or to let go. Control had been at the essence of his being. Control was equated with strength. What was the particular and elusive formula for that equation? Music helped with the release. Music that evoked scenes elsewhere, snow falling, greener places, captured by symphonic pieces. Strong male voices, Gregorian chants, tenors and choirs.
At the end, slowed breathing, no pain, drifting but trying to release. The image of a felled horse came to mind. Such a strong creature, spent and unable to rise. Trying to lift a heavy head. We did as Dad asked. The notice said that he had ‘gone home’. And now we need to go to the High Plains to make sure that he has…