xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Memories of my great mate, Sean Walsh.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Memories of my great mate, Sean Walsh.

My great friend, Sean Walsh, died suddenly two years ago on Friday, February, 23, 2012. 
He is sadly missed and I think of him often. 
I was honoured to be asked by his beautiful wife, Sue, to say a few words at his funeral.

Sean gave a very funny speech at the book launch for LEON, September 9, 2005.
Sean was my best friend. I am sure that there are many here today who would say the same thing...that Sean was their best friend. That is a measure of the warmth and charm of Sean’s personality, his caring, his consideration and his loyalty to those he called his friends. He had the unquenchable gleam of happiness in his smiling Irish eyes.

I first met Sean in mid February, 1956 when we both fronted up at Graylands Teachers College as First Year students.

It did not take me long to befriend Sean. I was a fun loving fellow and I soon found that Sean was the fun lovingest fellow on campus...or anywhere else. We both shared a great love for the Goon Show. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. 

It was also the start of two of the happiest years of our lives in that magical place that was Graylands Teachers College. We were pleased to find ourselves surrounded by happy and friendly students and conscientious and caring staff. Before long, everyone, staff and students, knew each other by name. We were all full of enthusiasm and optimism as we prepared to enter our professional lives. Above all we had huge amounts of fun, we made lifelong friendships and those golden memories stayed with us forever. In 2007, when Sean and I worked on the committee for the 50th anniversary reunion of our graduation he often remarked about the great impact that life at Graylands had had on him.
An added bonus for me was that, after graduating from Graylands, Sean and I did our national service  together, defending Campbell Barracks, Swanbourne Beach and the entire free world from the Phantasian hordes. We were proud that no country dared to declare war against Australia while we were in the fighting services.

Obviously, I do not have time here to reflect on memories extending over 56 years. Other speakers will cover various aspects of Sean’s life. I thank Sue for the opportunity to provide just a few, “I remembers....” about our early years.

I remember when Sean led a group of second year male Graylanders, very badly dressed as busty suffragettes, into a college assembly chanting, “Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb” and waving placards calling for a relaxed dress code for male students.

In those days male students at Graylands were required to wear a collared shirt and tie and coat or blazer, unless it was very, very hot. Female students were expected to dress as well groomed young ladies. But this was the dawning of the age of Rock ‘n Roll and a lot of the girls were turning up in tan shoes and pink shoe laces, potted corduroy slacks and hooded duffel jackets. Sean led his motley crew of protesters to the front of the hall. As he handed his petition to the bemused college principal he waved his hands in protest, shouting, “We demand a changed dress code for men. We are revolting!”

“I know you are,” beamed the principal, as Sean led his suffragettes out of the hall to the enthusiastic applause of the students, the staff... and the principal.

I remember when Sean and our good friend, Brian Pinchback, decided to gain some publicity for the Interstate sports and cultural carnival held annually by the four teachers colleges of Perth and Adelaide. In 1957 Graylands was the host college for Interstate. One busy Saturday morning Sean and Brian climbed to the top of the Perth town hall tower and staged a ferocious fight accompanied by blood curdling screaming and yelling. My job was to attract a crowd by standing on the diagonally opposite corner (Craven’s Tobacconists) and point at the two men fighting in the tower. At the appropriate time Sean bent town and hurled what appeared to be the figure of a man to the footpath below. People screamed and rushed towards to the prone body on the pavement, only to find a dummy with a large hand written sign on its chest advertising the opening of the 1957 Interstate Carnival. In the meantime I had quickly scooted down Hay Street to meet Sean and Brian in a William Street milk bar.

I remember sprint training with Tim and Sean on Tompkins Park after a hard day of “bird” watching at North Cottesloe Beach. We would all race towards a large sprinkler about fifty metres away. No matter how big a start they gave me, they always beat me.

I remember Muscles, the Walsh’s family dog. Muscles was as big as a horse. Whenever I knocked on the door there would be Sean, Tim and their father, Frank, all trying desperately to restrain Muscles from lunging for my throat. The family lived in Brentwood and I could hear Muscles barking as soon as I drove over the Canning Bridge.

I remember when Sean, fellow Graylander, Murray Lake and I conducted a clandestine commando raid on a hut belonging to the SAS soldiers at Campbell Barracks. A few nights earlier Sean’s bed had been damaged in one of the raids that one Nasho platoon would inflict on another Nasho platoon from time to time, in the good old spirit of Australian mateship. A group of Nashos would rush into a hut, upending beds and tossing foot powder bombs in all directions. The front leg of Sean’s bed was broken in one of these raids. As it happened the SAS men were training away from the camp for a few days and their huts were straight across the road from ours. So, late one night, we carried Sean’s broken bed across the road to the SAS hut where Sean had picked the lock and we very quickly swapped the broken bed frame for a good one.

Though Sean now had a very good bed, none of us slept soundly for a while. The SAS soldiers returned to the camp the next day and for the next week we would lie awake each night fearing terrible retribution from Australia’s fiercest fighting force. Fortunately, that SAS attack never came.
I remember very long telephone conversations with Sean. We loved the humour of the Goons and generally started our conversations with Goonish style humour until we hit the big ticket items, politics, education, sports, especially football, movies, plays or whatever else needed in depth discussion.

However, I remember having the shortest telephone conversation in history with Sean on one occasion. He had sailed for England with Tony Best in August, 1961. I followed in January, 1962, with Tony Jones and Murray Paddick, who were to also become great mates with Sean. Sean had given me his telephone number and soon after settling into London I rang. When he answered I said, “G’day Sean, it’s Noel”

He replied in an upper class fruity voice,, "Well I am Prime Minister Harold MacMillan. Please get out of my country.” Then he hung up.

Well I dialled back immediately and in my best Peter Sellers Indian doctor voice said, “I am very sorry to be bothering you, but I wish to be speaking  with Prime Minister MacMillan. Thank you very much.”

Sean said, “Oh, I am so fratefully sorry old boy, you’ve reached the Foreign Office. Try Downing Street, There’s a good Chap.” Well, eventually we started talking sense and arranged a meeting.

We know Sean was a gifted athlete and tennis player. I know Sue, and my wife, Lesley, will now groan loudly, but I have to let everyone know that Sean Walsh and I were the undefeated bucketball champions of the world. It’s true.

We won the title at an overseas venue against the crème de la crème of the world’s best bucketball players. Actually, it was at Garden Island at a Scarborough Athletics Club training camp. “Training Camp” may be putting too fine a point on it. It is true that the athletes, Sean, Tim, Alan Taylor, Wally Groom, Geoff Parker, Graham Birch and some others used to eat raw oats and carrots for breakfast, avoid butter, run up steep sand hills for hours at a time and even run 30 kilometres around the island in their bare feet. But they also used to stay up very late at night drinking beer and playing cards. Drinking beer and staying up late were activities that less athletic types, like Murray Paddick and I, could participate in with some enthusiasm.

Sean and I were very proud of our undefeated record at bucketball and spoke of it at length, much to the annoyance of our wives and friends. Which, of course, was the other reason why we did it?

Yes, like all of us here today, Lesley and I will miss Sean’s sparkling wit and his humorous take on various aspects of life. We had both pencilled him in to speak at our funerals. We will miss his companionship and sage advice. I am so glad that I had lunch with him on the Tuesday before he died.
Our friend, Brian Pinchback, who has retired to Bangkok, cannot be here today. When he heard of Sean’s death he sent me a flurry of e-mails, including the last message he had received from Sean a week or so ago.

In another e-mail he wrote of Sean’s death.
“I am more than shocked. Sean was like a rock in a fast flowing stream. I always thought of him that way. Didn’t we have a wonderful set of peers at Graylands? Since Graylands, I have never experienced anything that even came close to those two brief years. I think of it as the perfect cocktail...good teachers...very intelligent classmates and an egalitarianism that was unique to Perth following WW2. It was the Graylands Oz style of a mini Montmartre. In those days we made our poverty a feast. I shall never forget that Sean was one of the creators of that magic.”
and so say all of us!

Thank you, Sean, for all of those magic memories.

Rest in Peace.

The Graylands 1957 Reunion Committee hard at work.
Jean Farrant, Noel Bourke, Kaye Dunn, Murray Lake, Carol Dowling, Sean Walsh.

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