It was like a very quiet ambulance. The siren finally caught my attention and I realised that it had been there in the background. My phones lay on the desk, and I wondered which of them was demanding attention. My constant battles with technology predisposed me to ignoring anything that didn’t need me immediately, but this was insistent. Sigh. Was it the Blackberry or the Nokia?
The Nokia was mine, with its clear icons and simplicity. How I fought against the idea of owning a mobile phone, the hassle of keeping it with me in my handbag and being pressured to answer it whenever it rang. Too much bother! As for charging it constantly – there were already enough routines in my life. So my husband went out and bought the lime green phone and presented it to me, saying I would get used to it.
Gradually it became part of my life. I enjoyed the quick chats with my family in stolen moments at work down on the Peninsula and being able to make last minute arrangements. Text messages became my new language. My learning, however, was on a need-to-know basis. Like when the phone rang while my husband was preaching a sermon and I couldn’t mute it…
And then the Blackberry landed on my desk at work, a gift from the Business Manager. This was to be my work device from now on, said the memo. Oh goodness, how would I keep two devices going? Two networks, two chargers and two ring tones. Now my work emails were immediately visible and I could not escape.
Two tribal clans, the Yorta Yorta and the Dja Dja Wurrung lived along the grassy waterways of this region to hunt, fish and gather food across territory defined by tribal language, and bounded by geographical features such as forests, rivers and creeks.
The Yorta Yorta people occupy a unique stretch of forest-wetlands that are located in what is now known as the central Murray – Goulburn region.
We have chosen three very different areas for our road trip. After the majestic Gariwerd, then the expansive plains south of Bendigo, it is a dramatic change of scenery to arrive at the mighty Murray river, which is also our winding state border. Only 1.5 hours to get here, plus the usual leisurely morning tea break in Rochester.
A text tells us that our cabin by the water is ready early, so we gratefully arrive at Merool on Murray holiday park. What a spot! They seem to own this entire bend in the river, and the little wooden cabins stretch all the way. Our cabin is basic, but we paid for a river view, and the two way vista from the bend is beautiful from the balcony. Coming from an entire Airbnb house with every convenience to a small ‘studio’ with bare cupboards is a little challenging but we arrange our gear with some creativity and feel content. It’s a good base.
Our stay begins with some drama when the maintenance man who came to change a globe over the stove electrocutes himself, is thrown across the room and causes a total power outage! Not feeling too encouraged, we opt to eat dinner at the RSL down the road. The roast of the day with a background of bingo seems safer somehow.
We take an exploratory drive around the twin towns divided by the Murray; our accommodation is actually in NSW. Thank goodness there are no more pandemic border issues! The region centres around the gum-lined river, iconic paddle steamers, growing numbers of wineries and a rich history. We don’t however, have to leave our private balcony just to watch the gentle river traffic go by.
The old paddle steamers chug up to our bend and then return and the regular cruises and houseboats leave in the morning and return at sunset with a low hum – the pleasant sounds of people having a good time on the water. The haunting sound of the steamer whistles is reminiscent of another era. Occasionally a jet-ski or power boat hoon breaks the peace and leaves a rippling wake.
The bird songs are deafening at times and we see lorikeets, galahs and magpies flitting between the gum trunks and exploring the knots in the wood. Best of all, three kookaburras land on our deck, obviously expecting a reward. We feed them a little ham, and watch them ‘kill’ the meat by bashing it, which is what they do to snakes they catch. I have never been so close to the exquisite birds with their duck egg blue spots on the wings and their quizzical looks.
We sleep deeply and Peter gets up to see the sun rise; he shows me a photo because I am too snug to get up with him. It is a perfect, still morning and it seems that everyone has started slowly.
Bendigo and surrounds was known as Jaffa country and owned by the Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung clans a long time ago.
We are reluctant to leave behind the majestic mountains of Gariwerd, and this second week takes us to a very different area. Only a couple of hours to the north east, Bendigo became the world’s richest city as a result of the gold rush in the 1850s. That is part of the defining history of the area, and the number of banking buildings in the centre evidences the boom of the gold era.
We have plenty of time to wander across the country and pass the time in the car reading aloud the daily Lenten reflection. Our stop for morning tea by the road near Stawell looked peaceful but we were beseiged by flies. Lunch is in a park in the historic gold town of Maldon. Sitting under a spreading elm tree pulling apart a roast chicken, I can’t imagine a more pleasant spot. It’s a warm day, but a breeze springs up, and Peter snoozes on the bench while I tackle Wordle and Semantle for stimulation – and solve both. No one knows where we are, we have nothing we have to do, and plenty of time to go where we are headed. Bliss.
It is so booked out in Bendigo that we have had to settle for accommodation out of town in Lockwood South, which is not even a village. Post pandemic, people are on the move and enjoying local travel – like us. I am happy for local businesses making a comeback.
The Airbnb cottage is delightfully named Mulberry Place and we are warmly welcomed by our host. She has thought of everything, even messaging us to ask our milk and bread preferences. There are generous breakfast provisions and Easter eggs hidden everywhere. Next to their home, but separate from it, we look out through the roses and crepe myrtles to a dam. More serenity!
One of Ross Langmead’s songs is called The Pilgrim Song. It is a favourite for many because the lyrics reflect what all of us feel: life is not always easy. Ross was a man of faith and is remembered by his friends as cheerful and encouraging. Yet he had his struggles, as do we all while we are still on earth. He reminds us in this song that we sometimes are so bowed down by the rain that we miss the rainbow above. He drew on his faith and the strength of community to help him lift his eyes.
Listen to the song and if you would like to order a USB with Ross’s and Daddy’s Friends’ digitised music on it ($10), please use the contact form on this website.
It’s not easy to walk in the rain, and I walk with my eyes to the ground,
And I often ignore the rainbow above, and the coming of the sun.
V 3 There’ve been times of heavy weather when I’ve thought of giving up
And questioned whether anyone has made it through.
But i stake my life on what I know of Jesus and his love
And see the rainbow as my sign that it is true.
And see the power which comes from sharing all the power that we have
And the glimpse of peace and justice on the way
Is enough to make me lift my eyes and take another arm,
We had two attempts to launch “Living for Shalom: the Story of Ross Langmead”: one by Zoom and one in-person event. Both were cancelled in these uncertain times, and the event probably won’t be recovered. Although book launches are a good way to sell books, the greater loss was the gathering of friends and family to celebrate the subject of the biography: my brother, Ross.
The book was to be launched by the Rev Dr Jason Goroncy, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Whitley College, University of Divinity. Jason was a colleague and friend of Ross, an author in his own right and a member of Westgate Baptist Community. His speech was not given, but he has shared it for us on his blog. You can read it here: https://jasongoroncy.com/2022/01/14/on-living-for-shalom-the-story-of-ross-langmead/
I had also drafted my speech before we cancelled, and have been asked to share it:
The author’s speech for the launch of “Living for Shalom”
We thought this day would not happen! (And it didn’t…) A book launch is rather like a christening, or dedication of a baby. This baby was born in September, 2021, but a launch is finally the day when we give thanks and celebrate together.
For a sister to embark on writing the story of her brother is always going to be a delicate exercise. I used to say, ‘Someone should write Ross’s story.’ It was my encouraging husband who said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I listed all the reasons why I would not be the best person, starting with, ‘It needs to be someone who knew him better as an adult, as well as when he was a child,’ and finishing with, ‘It would need other people’s perspectives’.
The thought, however, rolled around in my mind and incubated. I had finished writing my first published book and with my newly honed research skills, wondered what to write next. I knew it would be a commitment, and that not many people are in a position to give several years to a project. Apart from our family origin, I also shared many aspects of life with Ross – my faith, being an educator and studying theology. On what would have been Ross’s seventieth birthday, I wrote to Ross’s wife, Alison, and made a tentative offer. And here we are! It was two years from that offer to publication, and the book took seven intensive months of writing.
I glanced at the young lady beside me. She was at least eight months pregnant and looked as though she would topple over if she leaned too far towards the sea. I was wandering along the foreshore at Hastings—my favourite place to think or just to be. Past the Shed and onto the jetty. The tide was as low as I had ever seen it, the beach a wide strip of pock-marked mud that attracted seagulls frantically searching for extra bounty in the wet sand. Mangroves and their exposed suckers glistened in the sun on the other side of the pier and a couple of lone pelicans perched on the bollards.
I held my grandson’s hand tightly; it always made me nervous to venture out on the jetty with an impetuous and active child who could run faster than I can now. What if he tripped and plunged over the edge? The swimming and lifesaving ability of my youth has evaporated and I would be lucky to save myself now, let alone a small child who fell into the sea. I edged to the the railings and tried to keep Jake on the safe side. Age has made me more risk-averse than when I was a young mum. How did I survive birthing and rearing my children in a remote town in a third world country? How did I even go there to live! No roads, no electricity, no running water, no phone, no family.
We walked slowly behind the young woman. Soon her baby would arrive, making her a mum, maybe for the first time. She straightened her back and steadied her pregnant waddle, her face to the sun, soaking up the extra vitamin D. Sun exposure: my generation put their babies outside for sun-kicks—how things have changed! Sleep on the tummy or on the back? Expose to allergens early or avoid? A couple of generations later, I don’t feel so wise. Fortunately, my kids survived to adulthood.
Jake is the youngest son of my youngest son. At eight months pregnant with my grandson’s father, I was living in West Papua. No ultra-sounds, just check-ups by shortwave radio. I trusted that all would go as well as my first two births did; I refused to contemplate complications. When they knew I was pregnant, the women whom I counted as friends in our remote village had said,
‘If you have a baby in Papua, you will always be one of us.’ Their little sayings and observations were insightful. Most of them had never been to school and had no concept of a university or my other life. I was their first and only Western friend.
They were right, and through the birth of my son in Papua, I am forever connected to them in the fellowship of mummas. There were times when I wondered if I would ever really fit into the primitive culture, based on bamboo houses on stilts over the sea with barely a stick of furniture apart from the Singer treadle sewing machine they all used. Half a metre taller than most local females, this pale-skinned Australian towered above them and politely refused the cigarettes and betel nut that they generously offered to accompany the sweet, black tea served in their best glasses when I visited their homes.
Children were the centre of their world and defined even the way they addressed each other. I was called Carly punya mama, or ‘Carly has a mum’. Our house was referred to as ‘Carly has a mum has a house’. Everything revolved around relationships. Everyone had their place in the community. I had much to learn from them, despite my university degrees.
When my baby was born with a birth weight nearly twice that of their average baby, they touched his light skin and cuddled him with delight and curiosity and called him anak Papua – child of Papua. Now I belonged. Astounded that a white woman would breastfeed her baby, they watched my every move and tried as hard to be like me as I wanted to be like them. I accustomed myself to letting my boobs hang out for feeds and allowing my friends to exclaim with wonder over my nursing bras—my house-helper took her friends on tours of our washing line to see these western miracles. For my part, I learnt to tie my baby on securely with a sling. They even ignored tribal food taboos when I explained to them how important their diet was to breast-feeding and the baby’s health.
I wondered if this local mum-to-be on the jetty had a community around her. Would her baby be brought up by a village? Mine was—literally. He is middle-aged now and losing his hair; proud of his birthplace and growing family. He wants to go back one day and see where his life began. I gripped his son’s little hand tightly as we walked the length of the jetty behind the lady who triggered my memories.
We reached the end and I held Jake’s feet firmly as he lay down on the knotted wood to look at the water below. Papuan toddlers ran around on the bamboo gangways without falling in, and, to my horror, they were thrown in the sea as babies so that they would learn to swim. Probably not something to try with this child.
Jake was up and heading off. Time to move!
‘Come on, Grandma!’
Snack time. Feed the seagulls. A trip to the toilet. Focus on now!
She was proud of her bulge, which was not concealed in a loose smock like mine was. I do not know her, but I know what it feels like to be pregnant. As she returned to her car, I silently wished her all the best for the journey ahead.
Jake cuddled up on the bench as we ate our snacks.
‘Grandma, tell me a story about when Dad was little’.
Since Living for Shalom was released, many have been reminded of the era of Daddy’s Friends. Some remember hearing the folk gospel group in the seventies, while others still have recordings. Living for Shalom: the Story of Ross Langmead, which has now been released, includes the history of this group.
An excerpt from Chapter 4:
. . . Daddy’s Friends took off and was in high demand in Christian as well as secular venues. They were promoted as “Victoria’s most sought after evangelical musical group—young Baptist university graduates who will thrill you for two hours and keep you singing for two weeks later”, stated a poster for a Sydney event. Designated “folk gospel”, they combined their vocal talent with three acoustic instruments and the piano, writing much of their own music. They believed that they needed to share as people on the stage, earn the right to be listened to, and not be regarded just as performers.
Each member of Daddy’s Friends was highly accomplished and educated. Jill was a music teacher with degrees in arts, education, and music, and played percussion, blues harp and piano as well as singing. Peter was an articled clerk with distinguished results in his law degree and played twelve-stringed guitar along with singing bass vocals. Alan was an accountancy student with his own business enterprises who worked part-time in schools for Scripture Union. He played the signature bass and piano as well as singing. Ross was completing his MEd while teaching maths; he played guitar and blues harp, and sang and composed. Quite a multi-talented line-up! Mark Garner joined them sometimes and performed skits, and Alan was the cartoon artist who could illustrate talks and jokes . . .
Did you ever hear Daddy’s Friends or do you still have records and cassettes made by the group? Perhaps you were on a Theo’s team with them?
As a writer of biography, I have had to consider the effects of a person’s upbringing on the direction of their life. It is the traditional way to begin a life story: birth and ancestry, childhood years, parents and siblings, childhood homes, education and locations. Milton expresses poetically what we all know – that adults are not formed in a void and the imprint of their early days often becomes clear as they mature.
The Jesuits have famously expressed it this way in their maxim: “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” Anyone who has watched the film series “Seven Up” would surely agree that there seems to be truth in that observation.
As a teacher for many years, I would say that children often show their personality, character and gifts when quite young. I am constantly delighted to hear news of ex-students who have progressed to all sorts of achievements as adults, most of which do not surprise me.
If this were universally true, however, we would have to subscribe to a fatalistic view of learning and development, and as a teacher, I am equally amazed at the transformation over the years of students who did not show ability or perseverance at school. Maturity, the input of friends and mentors and just serendipitous circumstances can all play a part in surprising trajectories; thank goodness for that! Children can also rise up out of challenging homes and situations to beat the odds and throw off their childhood influences. Equally, we all know of wonderful families with children who have not thrived despite having many positive and protective factors in their lives.
I knew very little about Veronica Knight when I began to write her story. In her three years as our informal foster daughter, we just enjoyed life and she quickly became part of our family. Although she was sixteen and almost an adult, she was childlike in other ways. We sensed that her so-called intellectual handicap, as it was called in the seventies, was at least partly the result of being confined to care homes and lack of regular education and encouragement. In other ways, she was insightful and smart. More recently I have had contact with one of her teachers, who described her as his ‘brightest student’.
Why my husband and I did not ask her more about her background, I am not sure. Perhaps it felt insensitive to interrogate a teenager about the years she never mentioned. Veronica was a ‘now’ girl: “What will we do now?” she would ask several times a day. We knew that she had spent several years in Minda Home, and that in Adelaide, to mention Minda was a pejorative in any context. She never mentioned any family members and I did not probe.
Sadly, Veronica became famous in a tragic way when her body was discovered in the Truro bush on Anzac Day in April 1978. It would emerge that she was the first victim of two serial murderers who received a great deal of publicity as their evil deeds were exposed (one had died in a car crash before the eventual arrest of the other one, who was charged and convicted). Veronica’s name was in the media and her movements on that last fatal night were detailed for all to read. She had been shopping in the city, was separated from her friend and accepted the offer of a ride home while she was waiting for the bus. Her last decision was a poor one. I knew that what was not in the newspaper reports was that she wanted to buy clothes and gifts for her imminent trip to visit our family in Melbourne where we were then located. Despite the information on her train ticket and our details in her belongings, the police never contacted us.
Where to start with the story of a life? This is the challenge for any biographer, especially when the subject is no longer with us and has finished living his whole life.
On what would have been Ross Langmead’s seventieth birthday in August 2019, I made an offer to his wife, Alison, to try writing his life story. The prospect was daunting and being Ross’s sister did not necessarily give me an advantage. I left home when he was eighteen and we spent little time close to one another after that, both literally and figuratively. Is it better to know someone intimately, or to write from a measured distance that might encourage objectivity? Although I genuinely believed there were better people for the project, there was only one way to find out.
Primary documents are the foundation of true story writing; Ross left a treasure chest. He wrote journals and kept diaries from his teenage years until his death at sixty-three. An awesome collection of reflections, thoughts and questions from a mind that never stopped working!
First, we had to find them. Alison hunted down box after box of diaries, journals and notebooks. Digital journals and travel diaries were added, and the ordering began. The first hand-written journal is from Ross’s rite-of-passage and epic trip as a seventeen-year-old to outback Queensland in a vintage car with his cousins, of whom only one was old enough to drive. His daily entries about their adventures in 1967 make amusing reading, with their larrikan episodes interspersed with Bible studies and prayer gathered around a picnic table.