How Did I Go With Him, Mate?

31 Jan

Recently my father passed away.  He had been sick for sometime but it is always unexpected.  Faced with the challenge of leading his funeral service, here is the homily.

“My dad was an ordinary bloke, sometimes a little difficult to get along with as he got sicker, but he provided us with many memories and laughs. Any one walking past our house these last few days would have wondered what was going on as we have been telling yarns and laughing raucously most of the  time.

Memories like the day we were playing junior cricket and Dad was umpiring. Peter Robinson bowled a fairly quick delivery, catching the batsman plumb in front. We all went up, and to our surprise, so did the umpire. Dad shouted louder than all, 'how's that?' Peter turned, with a big grin on his face, and asked, 'I guess he's out then, Mr Loughrey?' Sheepishily the finger went up and the batsmen was on his way.
Or the day we went eeling in the creek at the bottom of Doug Swords place with Maxy Carlisle. Dad caught eels by walking in the river, jagging the eel as it swam by. He carried a corn bag cut in half slung over his shoulder. This night he caught one and threw it in the bag. Straight away another went past, he got that one too. Immediately another went past, whoosh, he got that one as well. Next thing he gets one, throws it up the bank and marches ashore, swearing like a trooper.
The bag had a hole in it. He had caught the same eel several times as it fell through the bag back into the water each time. That was the end of the eeling expedition, we were all laughing too much to do any more.
Or the day I came home from school and he called from the top steps of the house for me to start the generator in the shed. I dropped my bag, and sprinted to the just opened door, shoved it open, only to come face to face with a 6 foot goanna laying inside the door. I yelled and jumped back only to see Dad laughing his head off. The goanna was dead, he had shot it pilfering the eggs in the chicken coop earlier and thought it was a great joke!
Father son relationships are often fraught with tension, ours was no different. Sometimes we agreed on things, sometimes not, but mostly we ended up laughing. Despite our differences, I valued our relationship and recognise I learnt much.
Growing up on the farm with him was the best of times, especially when we were wandering along behind a mob of sheep with King the dog and yarning.  He taught me about the land, subterranean clover, redlegged earth mite, the need for moisture in the sub soil, the value of the ubiqitous Currajong trees he used for feed during droughts, and more.
On our walks, when asked why he walked around the farm, he would say, "if you walk your land and your stock, you will get to know it and it you, and you will hear what it needs." At the time I thought this a little odd and strange, and didn't take a lot of notice. Only later in life did this come to mean what I think it meant for Dad.
I learnt it was all about attention or mindfulness, the capacity to see what is, not what we want or hope to see, allowing it to educate and influence our response. Walking the land with his sheep allowed him to see them both for what they were, a part of creation with something to say.  He never fed stock grain during hard times, he lopped Currajong trees to do the job, he cared for his land and his sheep in such a way they cared for each other.
Often he would simply wander into the paddock and call the sheep, before turning and walking to the gate. With a little encouragement they would wander along behind him as if they knew that's what was required of them. I think they did.
This idea of walking the land has become a key to how I am a priest, whether it was on the streets of Fortitude Valley or Stafford Heights in Brisbane with street kids, in HMAS KUTTABUL or on board a warship with sailors in the RAN, and now at Lindisfarne school. Walking amongst young people, watching and listening; paying attention is the primary tool I use to discern what is needed. It could be called, loitering with intent. 
At school I stand at the bottom of the stairs, watching and listening as they dawdle to the next class, picking up cues, hints and ideas, simply by being awake and mindful. They are often amazed I know so much about them.
Walking the land mindfully was a key to Dad's understanding of his land and his sheep, doing the same is the key to my success as a chaplain.
Why? Because it is a spiritual concept as old as God. Psalm 23 reminds us God walks amongst us just as God did in the Garden of Eden, and does so to provide what we need as we need it. God sees what is and responds. The coming amongst us of Jesus, what we call the Incarnation, was so God could walk the land and see as a human being. By doing so, Jesus learnt what it meant to be human, and discovered what humanity required for salvation.  God became like us so we could become like God.
The description John uses for Jesus as the shepherd who knew his sheep and whose sheep knew him, could also describe my father. His affinity with the soil is the reason for the photo on the order of service, as to the weather beaten hat, it speaks of his rose garden and fresh veges. The hand polished walking stick, reminds me of how he cared for his trees and his sheep, the England golf team cap reminds me of his love for family, and the book of photos of this years Melbourne cup, his love of horse racing. In the coffin with him is a bag of his favourite chocolates which reminds me of ....... his love of chocolates. There are so many chocolates in our fridge there is little room for food!
As you leave here this morning, we invite you to take a chocolate from the back with you, and have one on Ron as you drive out the cemetery.
On behalf of Mum and the family I would like to thank Ron's 'community girls' and the team who supported both of them by cleaning house, taking Mum to morning tea and shopping, as well as the staff at the hospital, Spruces Chemist and South Surgery. I would also like to thank Bev Golden who is there every day, Aunty Lola and Greta - thankyou for your regular weekly, and sometimes daily visits, and to all family and friends who visited, asked after him and are here today; thankyou.
As usual I will let my Dad have the last word in the words of his favourite Slim Dusty song:
This is the tale of a mate I had
Back in those other days
Thin as wire and just as tough
And woolly and wide his ways.
When the going was rugged and really rough
He would always cheerfully state
"Things are bad but they could be worse
So we'll see how we go with it mate."
There was a time when we busted our cheques
In a town on the long ago now
When a big gun shearer got on the tear
And started to kick up a row.
And he picked on the smallest one of our lot 
And slaughter was plain to see 
Till our mate said "Listen you son of a gun
Come and fire a charge at me."
Ha! things really began to happen then because
As he picked himself out of the dust an the dirt
Both eyes were the colour of slate
And he squinted a bit as he said to me
"How did I go with him mate?"
How did he go with him need I tell ya.
Another time in the sunny state
With both of us badly bent
With saddle bags empty and nothing to smoke
And between us we hadn't a cent.
When we saw on a poster stuck on a wall
News of a rodeo;
"Well here's our chance" he said to me
"We'll be kings of the wild west show."

But he drew the worse horse there was in the draw
Mean eyed and short in the neck
As he climbed up the chute he whispered to me
"Be ready to collar the cheque." 
Collar the cheque this is what really happened
As he picked himself out of the red Queensland dust
Just a few yards away from the gate
He looked up at me with a lop-sided grin and said
"How did I go with him mate?"
Now this mate of mine has gone to rest The way he was destined to go
Wheeling the lead of the scrubbers that broke
From a camp on the overflow.

As I stood by his grave on that drear winters day
With the rest of the crew and the boss
I thought of his happy-go-lucky ways
And I knew just how great was our loss.
And I thought of him climbing those long golden stairs
With St Peter in-charge of the gate
And I'm certain I heard his voice at my side saying
"How will I go with him mate?"

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