Story Archive

Elders-3

OLD MAN - OLD GRIEF

Posted on October 17, 2012 by
Raymond
on the road at
Boulia, Quuensland.

 

My apologies for the time between posts. I have needed a sabbatical from the Swag Blog to immerse myself in photography. And I mean immerse; as in 10 hours a day; immerse as in someone drowning, water replaced by soft light and hard glare. Immersed in colours that burn as red as a brand and me feeling just as breathless when I emerge from my race with the dying or first light.

Composition has trumped F-stops and exposure. Each day I have posted Tommie's and my daily life on Facebook.  There is a sense of a parallel universe being created. I live in the first one and share it in the second, and somehow they are fusing into a third with people from all over the world enjoying the images of Tommie and Australia and feeling the forward momentum of our journey. 

The photo below is different. It is of an old man who doesn't rail against the dying of the light. His expression has been crafted over a lifetime and this is part of his story.

KEITH URQUART

 

I walked past Keith's place as the sun set and the galahs went crazy in the western Queensland town of Boulia. Can I have a bit of a yarn I yelled from the street ... anytime old mate!

The deal is done. There was nowhere to sit so I dropped on the ground like a grandchild. I explained that I travel around collecting stories and taking photos. I have never said that to anyone where they haven't opened up. People value their stories because it is their life. Country people in particular I think. Maybe they appreciate more the value of information shared.

Keith is from another world. He started riding at 3, learnt to crack a whip at 4, got a job with the bullock team at ten and then worked as a drover for 58 years. An old aboriginal woman taught him to write his name in the sand when he was 12 years old. He ran droving teams with Aboriginals and had a respect and affection for the men. Like almost all of the people who have successfully worked with Aboriginal people he sees interference by whitefellas as the main problem.

Keith wanted to tell this story. He had a twin brother, Gerard, who was forbidden to try and break a particularly wild horse. At 16 years of age that was, of course, an invitation to do the opposite. He was thrown from the horse and his head was sandwiched between the saddle and the railing, crushing the "dovetails" in his cranium. 

Now here is a side story. When he was about 10 years of age the young Gerard had made his first damper from flour, salt and water. He added too much water and as it cooked in the coals of the fire it boiiled and overflowed out of the camp oven with five streams of spill dripping over the side. When the damper had cooled he lifted it carefully out of the oven and it maintained it's shape, looking like a spider as it rested on five spindly legs. For the remainder of his life Keith's brother was teased about his first damper.

As he was about to die two things happened. His father was by his bed and heard his last words - ya won't be able to tease me about me spider damper anymore Dad - and he couldn't because he dropped dead.

The second thing Keith wanted me to hear is this. The boy's head had exploded to twice its normal size as he lay in the hospital, blood seeping into his skull from his broken cranium.

Keith lay in his bed some hundreds of miles away, unaware of the accident, and his brother came to him in a dream and stood at the end of the bed and simply said - see ya mate! - and then vanished. Keith woke up at 8.20 am on August 5, 1949. The exact moment of his brother's passing. 

As his father was about to break the news of Gerard's death to him, Keith told his Dad exactly what had happened and asked why his brother's head was huge. After all these years this tough old man needs someone to know this story. Perhaps he is still seeking an explantion.

Keith is about to die. The doctors warned he would be dead in 6 months about 6 months ago so he could he could go any minute. He told me that when he has his next serious attack he will be dead in 10 minutes. It was said without drama.

Despite the zimmer frame that assists his movement he is packing up his house and moving back to Tamworth where he was born, responding to the "territorial imperative" that calls people home at the end of their lives.

Too many memories here he said. I know this is a sad story but somehow it didn't feel it at the time. Well maybe a little but the sadness had a different quality. It was mixed with a sense of privilege to be listening and of responsibility to retell the story as best I could.

-------------------------

 
Comments
Post Comment
Corinna
Reply
All sorts of feelings bubbled through me whilst reading this simple tale. I cannot define one, it was more a sense of fullness of the human spirit. I also intrinsically understand what you mean by 'the sadness had a different quality.
Raymond
Reply
Thank you Corinna - What I found so fascinating was how he needed me to hear his story. I think there us every chance that he hadn't spoken about it for decades. That is just my sense of it.
Mr Swagman
Reply
Raymond Reading between the lines (on old mates forehead) will tell you a hundred more tales of a times past. Mr Swagman.
Raymond
Reply
I agree - I am off to the High Country soon. God the stories I will find there.
Barbara Flores
Reply
i had a similar incidence with my mother ... I knew when she had passed on when I felt her strong presence.. she was angry at me for not coming to the hospital in the U.S. to see her..I was still on Guam and my husband would not let me go because he was afraid she would see all the bruises he put on me. She appeared to my husband at the same time and it scared the living daylights out of him. Her spirit came to us before she passed on a few days later.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Barbara - that's a poignant story. I had a look exactly where Guam was after you subscribed the other day. Sounds like a fascinating place.
Susan
Reply
Thank you Raymond for sharing this story...
Raymond
Reply
It is my pleasure - or rather I feel it is my obligation.
Robert
Reply
We are our stories. Thanks for collecting them so lovingly Raymond.
Raymond
Reply
Hey Robert - Can you make the Melbourne Book Launch.
Robert
Reply
Wouldn't miss it for quids Raymond! Looking forward to catching up again. Cheers Robert
Anne Looby
Reply
Beautiful Raymond. What a privilege indeed to be the story teller. I envy your journey but delight in its fruits.
Raymond
Reply
Thats a nice idea - the privilege of being a story teller - Must admit I do feel at home in another person's story. I will be doing some Book Talks in Braidwood, somewhere in the Victorian High country and hopefully Burra with the caption - "I want to leave with more stories than I told".
Marg
Reply
A very moving story, it would have done him good to share it with you. I'm reading Hell West and Crooked by Tom Cole (your book next!) about droving in the 1920s and what a tough life, especially during drought.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Marg - I tried to message you on Facebook the other day and couldn't get through. I wanted to thank you for coming to the launch. Yes, it was good to talk to him. I love talking to all these people. While we were yarning a young fella came up and told me about an old Aboriginal woman who lives near Harts Range. She is 90 years of age and walked from Broome to Harts Range, when she was just a girl. Thousands and thousands of miles across harsh desert. Now I want to meet her of course.
karen vasquez
Reply
ah, what a story. his is a face well earned and his story sad. most of us have grief in our lives but never think to tell about it. you are a true traveler ray, and i know many of us thank you for the bits of beauty and truth in life that you find and share.
Raymond
Reply
Thank you Karen - that is touching. We all have good bits and bad bits - My bad bits are legendary but my good bits revolve around telling stories of people with big hearts.
Karen Krooglik
Reply
Hi Raymond, I am really enjoying all of your photos as you travel across the country. Some bring back fond memories of the times I have travelled to 'the outback'. This photo of Keith reminds me of several men who I have had the pleasure of listening to over the years in my travels. These stories need to be written down for the next generations to enjoy. THank you for doing such a great job xx
Raymond
Reply
Hi Karen - My initial impulse for the Electronic Swagman was to do just that. I think it my central interest but photography has become a passion as well. I love combining the two and will be writing another book with all these old characters in them.
Rosa
Reply
I hope to face my end, when the time comes, with equal equanimity and peace. There comes a time when 'raging against the night' must be recognised as futile. Better to accept the challenge and travel on. Look how pensive your story has made me. So glad to hear your launch went well. I am so looking forward to the read. Cheers, Rosa.
Raymond
Reply
Hey Rosa - I spoke to another old man in Broken Hill the other day and he said to me - I'M CONTENT! Thats after a lifetime of raging against the light as an artist and a writer. I''ll write about Duffy sometime. He is a classic.
Rosa
Reply
Received your invite to the Melbourne do. How I wish I could make it. You'll have a blast to rival the last. He he. Best wishes. Are you doing a author's tour of the country?
Raymond
Reply
Hi Rosa - yep - I will do Melbourne, Walhalla, Burra and Broken Hill. Ill take photos and hear and tell stories. Going to be great.
Jenni
Reply
A wonderful story Raymond, so many aged have this grace and acceptance. Perhaps Keith's passing will be more peaceful still, knowing he has shared his story with you. It is a great gift to truely listen to others.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Jenni - we can only hope. Did you get my message about coming to Burra for a Book Talk! Be good to promote the festival as well.
JenniWillis
Reply
No msg, but would be so great, would love to hear your talk. So exciting to have the festival in Burra love the idea of promoting it!
Audrey
Reply
I justcame across your site and I read your blog on Keith. Just by looking at his face tells of the trials and tribulations he has gone through.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Audrey - Glad you found us - there are some other stories about these old Characters - like the one on Old Herman - you can find it in the Past Blogs. Raymond & Tommie.
Francis daisy
Reply
A very sad story. Thank you for. It make you think!
Raymond
Reply
Hi Francis - It was sad but fascinating. The old man wanted me to tell it very much.
rusell,peter morgan
Reply
Those boys gotta do what they gotta do,bet he never expected it to end the way it did,sad story but shit happens
Raymond
Reply
Hi Peter - yep, he probably had very few expectations from life. There was no sense of self-pity I must say.
Linda
Reply
thoroughly enjoyed Keith's story
Charlene McAllister
Reply
Thank you for sharing this soulful photo and one of Keith's important life stories. I read once that "when a person dies, it is as if an entire irreplaceable library burns". My best wishes to you both (and of course, your dog, Tommie).
Inge
Reply
beautiful story... and what a powerful picture that is. Thanks a million for both of them
chris hargreaves
Reply
I spent six months working round the norfolk bulge in england, in the 70,s.and i heard lots of stories about the "old boys" herring fishing. I was fascinated,and it must have shown, as they didnt usually talk "southern townies".I dont know why, but I,ve always liked talking to people, especially from the "older generation"(i,m coming up for 72 meself),I feel we do not listen enough, we are too fond of taling sometimes. If ive learnt one thing in this life, Its LISTEN, bye now.
karen O' Connell
Reply
What a beautiful storey.
lee
Reply
I loved this post and this old man the keeper of his families history or part of it passing it on.
Donna Mitchell
Reply
I must say that I have noticed in every photo I have seen of those taken by you.....I sense the person and even the animals appear to be looking directly at you ,,,even more they are getting a sense of you ,There is a connection if just for that moment. You have an natural energy that brings an openness out of people, You can see an honesty in their eyes The animals photos as well ....They really see into you! you have such a natural talent
Wendy Fowler
Reply
what a great story... I quite agree with you about it being a privilege to hear it. Spent a lot of my working life as a nurse in rural Tasmania and it has been my privilege to share the last months of many; we have so much to learn from these good men and women who took what live served them up and made ago of life despite it. Thanks for sharing.
Willy Hunsaker
Reply
Raymond, I have tried several times to post a comment on this blog, but I do not see my comments anywhere and I am wondering if you get them, because if not I need to retry this whole process.  willie
lorie canfield
Reply
hello there my friend i got 2 gifts from you lol the photos great whens the book signing id love tocome but think its over i was layed up about 4 wks havent been on i hope you and tommie well keep of your journey HAPPY TRAILS
Christine Hunsaker
Reply
This piece didn't just tell a story, it touched souls.  So many truths encapsulated into few words. I have no doubt his brother visited him to say goodbye......imagine what a joyful reunion they will have.    Your stories and work are those of love!  WUFF
Jacinta Hickey
Reply
The photo you have up today on the wuffington post,of Keith Urquart of the ciggerette hanging out of his mouth,reminds me of my dear old Dad,who knows,they could be telling a few old yarns about life on the land as we speak.
Ingrid Petersson
Reply
Wonderful and touching story. We all have a story to tell. I know that twins has a special bond. Great story Raymond! xxx