xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: My great friend Tony Jones.

Monday, 5 February 2018

My great friend Tony Jones.


Sailing up the Red Sea to Port Suez, mid February, 1962
My great friend, Tony Jones, died on November 27. It was exactly four months after he had been diagnosed with leukaemia. When tony died I knew I would miss him. I just did not realise how much I would miss him.

Tony had a lot of very good friends. My wife, Lesley, and I treasured a friendship with Tony which stretched over sixty years.

Lesley actually met Tony before I did. She entered Claremont Teachers College in 1956, the same year as Tony. 

I was a First Year at Graylands in 1956, Being at different campuses it was unlikely that Tony and I would ever meet. After all, nine years elapsed before I came face to face with Lesley Young.
But Tony and I did meet in 1956 and it was God who brought us together. Tony was a in a Catholic student group, The Newman Society. I was in a similar group at Graylands, The Aquinas Society.
Once a term these two groups would meet, mainly for social reasons.

I met Tony at a joint meeting in April 1956. Our friendship developed at these meetings in 1956 and 1957. In 1958 we were brought even closer together. This time not by God but by Prime Minister Menzies’ National Service Programme. Unlike our fellow teacher graduates in 1958, who went into classrooms learning to be teachers, we were required to present ourselves at Campbell Barracks, Swanbourne at 0800 hours on January 4.

Tony and I were Gunners in the Third Field Regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery. We valiantly fought off the Phantasian Navy by firing 25 pounder shells into Gage Roads. Fortunately, the authorities had cleared all shipping out of the area, including the Phantasian Navy. Our only real worry was that a misdirected shell would sink Rottnest Island.

Tony and I were in Number Six Platoon and bunked down in Hut 28.  There were thirty young men in Six Platoon and there were fifteen beds on either side of the hut. Tony’s bed was directly opposite mine. Being thrust into the close company of complete strangers from a variety of educational and socio-economic backgrounds was a bit hairy at first. In the first few weeks there were tensions as we all tested the boundaries and sorted each other out. However, after awhile we all learned to be accepting of each and Hut 28 was basically a happy place. Des Sheahan, a very good college friend of Tony’s was also in Hut 28.

After discharge from Nashos in early April, Tony and I were kept in close contact, this time by the Department of Education. We both took up our first teaching positions in Bunbury. Tony was at Carey Park and I was at Bunbury Central School.

We both spent three very enjoyable years in Bunbury and made many friends there, including David Ashcroft and Michael Maher. Another lifelong friend, Murray Paddick, a Bunbury boy, started his teaching career there in 1959.

The first time I went to Tony’s house in Goldsmith Road I was amazed to find that he was building a wooden dingy in his back yard. It revealed another side to Tony. Not only was a he a gifted teacher and an accomplished artist, he was also a great outdoors man and a very skilful fisherman. We caught a lot of fish off Meelup beach in that little dingy. In August of each year, from 1959 to 1961, we would spend a week fishing and camping along the Murchison River about twelve kilometres out of Kalbarri.
Three or four times each year we would do go down to the Rooney Farm at Glen Warren, a beautiful spot on the Warren River between Pemberton and Manjimup. Rooney was Tony’s mother’s maiden name.
. August 1958. breakfast at our first bush camp, about 12 kilometres up the Murchison from Kalbarri.

Here I met Tony’s remarkable Aunty Sheila and her husband Dick Gravitt and their three children. Tony’s cousins. Also, on the farm were three of Shelia’s brothers, Will, Syd and Peter who lived in outbuildings on the farm.

Tony had quite a few Rooney relatives in Bunbury. His Uncle Syd Rooney, a cousin, Lenore, her brother John Rooney, who possessed a fine operatic tenor voice and was in much demand at local concerts. At various times Lenore‘s children were in my class at Bunbury Central.

A few weeks after we first arrived in Bunbury, Tony came around one Saturday morning and said he was going to visit his uncle and aunty and did I want to come. Well, visiting someone’s uncle and aunty was not high up on my To Do list. Actually, I did not have as too do list. I was more like a Nothing to Do list, so I tagged along.

I met Tony’s Uncle, Dick Rooney and his wife, Phyllis. They were lovely people and very welcoming and kind to me. More importantly I met their children…more of Tony’s cousins. There were five beautiful daughters and their very young brother, John. The girls were Ronnie/Veronica, Anne, Kath/Kathy, Maureen and Carmel.

Maureen and Carmel were still attending the Sisters of Mercy convent school in Wittenoom Street, but Ronnie and Anne taught at South Bunbury PS and Kath was teaching at Bridgetown and was home for the weekend.

Well, the five Rooney girls were all beautiful, bright eyed, smiling faced and happy. They sang like angels in beautiful harmonies and all seemed to play the piano and/or the violin. Maureen played the cello. The Rooney Sisters were sought after to entertain at Bunbury community musical events.
Well, after that initial visit, Tony did not have to ask if I wanted to go and visit his Uncle Dick and Aunty Phyllis in Doris Street, South Bunbury. I was usually the one suggesting perhaps it was time to pay a visit.

 Before we left Bunbury, Tony, and I finished with a flourish in Show Business. Together with Murray Paddick, we all appeared in the Bunbury Musical Comedy Group’s inaugural production of “The Desert Song”. We were kept busy, because there was a shortage of male performers and we each appeared as the Moroccan Riffs who were rebelling against their French Colonial masters, French Legionnaires and Harem Guards. In 2010 the three of us travelled back to Bunbury as part of the Musical Comedy Group’s fiftieth birthday celebration.

In January, 1962, Tony, Murray, David Ashcroft, Mike Maher, Bob Birch and I set sail for Europe. We had resigned from the Education Department and set off on the adventure of a lifetime. It cost us eighty pounds each to sail off in the SS Strathnaver as far as Naples. From there we made it overland via Rome, Genoa and Paris to London.We shared a six berth cabin "two decks below the propellor shaft."
Noel, Tony, Murray.January 24, 2012. Dining in Fremantle to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our departure on SS Strathnaver.

We enjoyed teaching in England, but the pay was terrible. My monthly pay was not much more than my fortnightly pay in WA. Tony’s brother, Mike, had gone to Canada in 1959, so Tony, Mike Maher and I decided to migrate to Canada. We sailed from Southampton to Montreal on the SS Homeric. This was a Greek ship with an Italian crew who thought every day was a great day for a party.

We arrived in Toronto in late August, 1962. Teaching in Canada was like going to heaven, smaller classes and much better pay and conditions. We convinced Murray to come over the following April.

Tony in a drinking contest with a US College Boy on the SS Homeric en route to Montreal. Mike Maher is staring at
the camera while I check for any spillage.
Read more about this trip at this link HERE.

We had many wonderful adventures in Canada, including several trips to Niagara, Buffalo, New York Boston, Cape Cod and Montreal. We lived in a huge house in Willowdale and had many visitors. Kath Rooney even paid us a visit.
The Three musketeers at Gettysburg. July 3, 1963. The 99th anniversary of the battle.

June 26, 1963.Setting off on the grand car tour USA and Mexico
In the summer of 1963, Tony, brother Mike, Murray and I set off for a grand car tour of the USA. Unfortunately, Mike only had two weeks holiday, so he had to return to Toronto when we were in Miami. Fortunately, he generously left his brand-new Dodge sedan car with us and we continued a ten-thousand-mile journey that took us on to New Orleans, San Antonio, Mexico City, San Diego and Los Angeles, Disneyland, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon and then along the old Route 66 back through Oklahoma City, St Louis, Chicago, Detroit and home to Toronto.

Tony did not want to face another freezing cold Canadian winter and returned to Australia in November, 1963. Murray and I taught another year and came back to Perth a year later in November 1964.

Sending a package back home. 1963.
In 1965 I was teaching at Tranby Primary School. A life changing experience for me for it was there that I eventually met the beautiful Lesley Young. In that same year, Tony was teaching at Belmont High School, so we used to all catch up on a Friday at the Ascot Inne, The Sandringham or the Rivervale Hotel.

Tony also used to visit my classroom in Tranby and give wonderful art lessons to my students. The copleted art work disp[layed around the classroom made me look good when the District Inspector came on his annual visits.
Tony was best man at my wedding to Lesley in 1968 and I was his best man when he married Liz in 1970. Tony was Godfather to our daughters Jane and Emily and I was Godfather to his first-born son, Matthew.

We kept in close touch over the years and Lesley and I have, in more recent years, enjoyed happy times with Tony at his delightful rural property in Denmark.We particularly enjoyed the fine Merlot that his grapes produced.
Enjoying the Merlot. April, 2003

In the mid to late 1990s, I started meeting Murray and our late good friend, Sean Walsh, at the Celtic Club on the last Friday of every month.  Sean Walsh and his lovely wife Sue, had been on the staff at Mt Lawley Teachers College with Tony in the early to mid-1970s.

I rang Tony and told him of this arrangement and said if ever he had business in Perth to try and make it for the Last Friday of the month. Well, Tony came to every one of our Friday meetings which continued till just before Murray and I retired in 2002.

When I first met Tony, he was a rather quiet person. Not shy, by any means, but rather reserved.
He always said that it was his time in National Service that gave him self-confidence. Gave him a voice. We had to sort ourselves out quickly. We were yelled at by experts and had to think fast and act quickly. You needed a lot of self-confidence and resilience if you were going to survive in Nashos.
Tony had suffered from asthma very badly as a boy and he was always the youngest person in the class and in his year group at Teachers College. When we started Nashos, I had turned 20 about a fortnight before. Tony was still only 18. He did not turn 19 until June 23rd of 1958. He was by far the youngest Nasho in Hut 28.

One of the problems we did have in Hut 28 was that certain people were very loud snorers. This was especially true when people came back worse for wear after a long alcoholic weekend leave. Lights out was at 10-00pm, but on a Long Leave we left the barracks at 5-00pm on Friday and did not have to be back at the Barrack Gate until one minute to midnight, 2359hours in army time.

Our way of dealing with snorers was quite simple. If we could not turn them onto their sides, four people would get on each end of their bed and we would take them out of the back door of the hut and deposit them in the middle of the parade ground. It was a very good system.

We used to have a weekly parade on Friday mornings. At one of these parades, Regimental Sergeant Major, Reg Bandy, told us that he was disgusted to hear about soldiers being deposited in their beds on the parade ground.

Sergeant Major Bandy said this practice had to stop immediately. Any soldier found guilty of such an offence in future would be severely punished, placed in the guard house for the duration, with hard labour, and would probably receive a Dishonourable Discharge. He did not actually say he would pull out our fingernails one by one, but we all got that message very loud and clear.

 So, the practice stopped. Until, about two weeks later, when, after a long weekend leave, our friend Don came lurching into Hut 28 at about five past midnight. He stumbled down the aisle between the beds and crashed on to his bunk, which was next to Tony’s. Within thirty seconds Don was fast asleep. We knew this because he was snoring like a 747-jet powering up before take-off.

Between each of the thunderous snores, there was a five second period of perfect silence. We endured the snoring for about five minutes when, during a period of silence, somebody said, it may have been me, “Sergeant Major Bandy will never know who put Don out on the parade ground.”
In a flash, Tony and I and two others had the ends of Don’s bed and we made straight for the back door. We had just moved clear of the back steps of Hut 28 when we heard a dreaded scrunch, scrunch, scrunch on the gravel. Around the corner of Hut 28 came the Officer of the Watch, followed by the Sergeant at Arms, carrying a huge silver sabre and four regular army soldiers with their rifles at the slope and their bayonets gleaming in the moonlight.

“Well, Well. What’s going on here, then?” barked the Officer of the Watch. Oh, no, I thought. My life is ruined. Sergeant Major Bandy is going to hurt me badly, lock me up, treat me like a slave and give me a Dishonourable Discharge. The Education Department will be informed, and my teaching career will be over before it even began.

I decided I would throw myself at the feet of the Office of the Watch and beg for mercy. It was blatant cowardice in the face of the enemy, but I had no other choice.Well, those thoughts flashed through my mind in a nano second. What happened in real time was the Officer of the Watch said, “Very well. What’s going on here, then?” Before he had finished his enquiry, Tony said, “Sir, some rotten sods have put our friend Don out on the parade ground. We are just taking him back inside.”
“Very well. Carry on,” said the Officer of the Watch as he marched the Night Guard further along the row of huts.

That was probably the only time in his life that Tony told an outright lie.As far as I was concerned, Tony deserved a medal. He had just won the Gold Logie, Academy Award, Guinness Book of Records, Olympic Gold Medal for the fastest, most effective response in the history of repartee.

Yes, National Service gave Tony his voice. It was the old cliché. He went in as a boy and came out as a man. And what a man he was. He was a great teacher, artist, wine maker, fisherman and outdoorsman.

In a Facebook tribute after Tony died, our friend Murray wrote, “I always thought that Tony was the embodiment of decency.”

The embodiment of decency! Says it all about Tony. He was a thoroughly decent man. We all loved him, and we miss him terribly.

Now he has left us. I am glad that when Lesley, Sue and I last saw Tony on the Tuesday before he died, he was in very good spirits, eagerly looking forward to going back to Denmark for a brief visit.

His rather sudden death from an infection came as a terrible shock. However, we take comfort that he died in a place that he loved and where he had such good friends.

Yes, Tony has left us. But he has left us with a lifetime of wonderful memories. Farewell, Tony, my friend. Thank you for your friendship.
Rest in Peace.

I remember when Tony, Murray and I were walking down Bourbon Street in New Orleans one hot August night. We came upon three young negro boys busking on the footpath.

“Hey mister, “called the oldest boy, “I bet you fifty cents I can tell you where you got your shoes.”

“Yes, he can, mister.  Yes, he can”, piped up another of the boys. “He can even tell you what street you got your shoes, what city you got your shoes and even what state you got your shoes.”

We smiled, and I said to Tony and Murray that there was no way the boy could tell that I bought my shoes at Betts and Betts in Hay Street, Perth, Western Australia. “OK, Here’s fifty cents. You tell me where I got my shoes.”

The older boy grinned as he leaned in, grasped the coin and said, “Why, mister, you got your shoes on your feet, in Bourbon Street in the grand and glorious state of Louisiana, USA.”  Gotcha!

I remember when the three of us were in Mexico City and visited the bull ring, The famed Plaza Del Toro. The bullfights started at 4-00 pm. We arrived  about an hour early as we wanted to walk around the perimiter of the stadium looking at the statues of famous  matadors…and even some famous bulls.  As we got out of our taxi at the main entrance an old man passed by, pulling a wheeled coat rack from which were hanging about 100 plastic raincoats.

“Raincoats, forty pesos. Raincoats, forty pesos," shouted the old man. He looked at us hoping for a sale, but we just walked straight past him and set off exploring the great Plaza del Toro. When we came back to the main gate it was starting to rain so, we rushed over to the elderly raincoat seller.

“Raincoats, eighty pesos. Raincoats, eighty pesos.”

“Hey,” said Tony, “Half an hour ago they were only forty pesos.”

“A half an hour ago, Senor, it was not raining."  Economics 101. Product prices rise as need increases.

I remember one day, about ten years ago, when Tony told me that he had attended a class reunion of students he taught at Belmont Senior High School. He was enjoying a conversation with several of the now fortyish and obviously prosperous former students. Suddenly, Tony heard a loud voice exclaiming, “Mr Jones!Mr Jones!”

He looked around to see a man coming towards him with arms outstretched. The man embraced Tony in a giant hug and said, “Mr Jones! You changed my life.”
By this time, Tony had recognised his former student and asked how he had changed his life.
“You gave me an appreciation of Art. I was a good student at school and had my eyes fixed on a career in commerce. I wanted to make a lot of money. Well I have a great job and I have a lot of money. I travel overseas a lot. Whatever city I am in, I always go to the art gallery to look at the paintings and I remember all those things you told us about art, structure, texture, light and shade, the setting, the focus, the story. You enriched my life and I thank you for giving me such a love of art. It changed my life.”

Well, only a teacher would know how wonderful it was for Tony to hear those deeply felt, appreciative words.

Yes, Tony changed a lot of our lives. For the better.

Now, he is gone, but we treasure the wonderful lifetime memories that he gave us.

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