"The Rush to London" by Henry Lawson
YOU’RE off away to London now, Where no one dare ignore you, With Southern laurels on your brow, And all the world before you. But if you should return again, Forgotten and unknowing, Then one shall wait in wind and rain, Where forty cheered you going.
You’re off away to London, proved, Where fair girls shall adore you; The poor, plain face of one that loved May never rise before you. But if you should return again, When young blood ceases flowing, Then one shall wait in wind and rain, Where forty cheered you going.
It may be carelessly you spoke Of never more returning, But sometimes in the London smoke, You’ll smell the gum leaves burning; And think of how the grassy plain Beyond the fog is flowing, And one that waits in shine or rain, Where forty cheered you going.
The old Forestry Tas building at Fingal faced pretty much east-west and Mick’s office was located at the far western, Launceston facing end. He had a big window and from there you could look out over the forests rising above the valley past Tower Hill toward Story’s Creek and beyond to Ben Lomond National Park. Stack’s Bluff reigned over the valley, it’s knuckled peak a watchful eye over proceedings below. I loved that view and I loved coming into Mick’s office every morning to appreciate it.
“G’day Mick” I’d say as I passed him at his desk to gaze out the window at the mountain beyond. “G’day Dig” he’d always answer and we’d proceed to chat about nothing much for a while. It looked different every day that mountain, and through the day it would change as the light, sun and clouds played their tricks. It often brought me to Mick’s office so we interacted a lot. Mick would often get up from behind his desk and come and stand beside me and admire it too. “She’s bloody beautiful today,” we’d agree. “Look at those colours now”, “look at that storm!” More often than not we’d just stand there next to each other, looking out to the mountain, saying nothing. Mick said to me once “You love that mountain, don’t you?” and I responded with a “Yep” but in truth, I wondered whether I loved the mountain as much as I loved coming to chat with Mick.
That mountain changed every hour of every day, but Mick never did. He was always there, always Mick. He never spoke any bullshit, Mick. He’d crack countless jokes and kept me constantly on my toes with clever piss-taking but there was never any ego with Mick. He was never trying to get one over you, it was forever in good spirit and a great laugh. When he came to stand beside me to appreciate the beauty of that mountain, he was really doing it, there was no mocking, we’d connected.
And our discussions went way beyond just appreciating the beauty of the landscape. We opened our imaginations to the wonder of the stars! I was in Fingal around the time the Hubble telescope was being launched and we both talked a lot about what it would mean for our understanding of the stars, the Big Bang, the universe. In truth, it never did much for our understanding because we’re no astrophysicists - it was so over our head but that didn’t stop us wondering. We even talked about subscribing to an amateur astronomy magazine at one stage, silly buggers.
From time to time I’d end up at Mick’s place at Scamander sinking too many beers, laughing and joking the whole time, hoping not to wake Celeste. I always wondered who else would ever have thought to name their black Labrador “Idi”. And every now and then we’d get on the turps in Fingal and Mick would end up home where we’d fire up the stereo with U2, Jimmy Hendrix and others and we’d be playing Air Guitar in the lounge-room, on the piss, with Glen Rivers and other lads, silly buggers the lot of us.
They were great times but I had to move on. While I was in Fingal I got a scholarship to Oxford and off I went to start what has become a life’s adventure. Mick of course was one of the key blokes there to send me off with a belly full of Boags. I travel a lot with work and from time to time, sitting in an airport in some weird location, I’d wonder about that mountain and I’d think “I’ll call Mick”. Mick had long since left Fingal but I just loved talking to him so I’d call him and we’d talk again as if we were there in his office, looking at that mountain, not separated by miles or by years. Mates.
And Mick went through some hard times but amongst those I came down to Tassie and he came to meet my wife and boys and it was terrific. I’ll never forget it. My boys just gravitated to him; he gave us an anchor in Australia. Uncle Mick. They loved him. And so did I.
Life got hectic as it always does and so our phone calls got fewer and further in between. I kick myself for that now. But then one day in March last year, I was sitting in the main train station in Paris, in a meeting, and my phone rang. On the other end was an Aussie lady, “How ya goin’ Scotty? Mick wants to speak to you’. I’m in the middle of a meeting about Indonesia’s forests and this call out of the blue from an Aussie lady I had never heard from before caught me by surprise. “Mick who?” I thought but then the voice came over the line “G’day Dig” and I was home again, standing in that Fingal office looking out the window at that mountain, Mick beside me. “How are ya Mick?” I responded. “I’m gettin’ married!” he announced and then proceeded to tell me how beautiful Ange was, how lucky he was, how bloody happy he was, how much he loved her, how beautiful she was, how lucky he was…and so on. He told me he really wanted me to come to the wedding – which was just 3 weeks away – and how he knew I wouldn’t be able to make it but that nonetheless he wanted to tell me about it.
Mick and Ange had had some friends around, I think it was a Thursday evening and clearly they’d had a few drinks. I was so exceptionally happy for Mick and for a good 30 minutes, my work colleagues had to just sit there wondering what language I’d suddenly lapsed into as I spoke Fingalese slang with Mick about life, getting married and just everyday joy.
The most special part of the call was when Mick told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him too, two mates reflecting together that they missed each other and how much they meant to each other. It really was a wonderful moment and as I turned the phone off and returned to my colleagues, all I could think of was Mick, my love for him, that mountain and how the hell I could get to Tassie for the wedding.
Well, what with work and family stuff, I couldn’t make it to the wedding, shame on me. Then, in October Ange sent me a message to let me know that Mick had been diagnosed with cancer and that it didn’t look good. “Shit!” I called straight away and spoke to Mick but he didn’t want to speak about it. A couple of days later he sent me a message asking me to call. I did and we spoke so much together, not just about the cancer and the bad prognosis, but about life. Mick told me how proud he was of everything I’d done since I’d left Fingal. I told him how I wished we were back there looking out that window again. We shared a lot of silences, but Mick never hesitated to really say what he was thinking and it touched me and will forever be with me that we really understood just how much the other had meant to us.
I told Mick that next time I was in Indonesia, that I’d take a trip to come and see him. “Don’t be silly” he said, “no need for you to do that, I don’t expect it”. I told him I knew he didn’t expect it but that I was coming to see him regardless. Afterwards, I heard from Celeste, now grown up, that he was really looking forward to my visit so I spoke to my family and agreed that I’d take a day from our trip to Sydney over New Year to pop down to see him. We kept it a surprise and Celeste and Ange did a great job to line up that he’d be in the house. Bob Gordon was in on it too and told Mick he was coming to see him. I’ll never forget the look on Mick’s face as I jumped out from around the corner to say “G’day Mick!” It was just terrific.
We sat together and opened some beers after Bob had dropped me. We set up Skype on his computer so we could speak together more regularly. We spoke about the cancer, about our lives, the fun times we’d had together. Peter and a mate dropped around and we just chewed the fat for an hour or so before heading into town to meet Ange. Bob and Dianne were putting on a BBQ and Mick was the star guest.
As I sat there with Mick and Peter, sucking on our beers, I realised how lucky I am. To have had a mate like Mick is a priceless gift in this world. I travel all over the place meeting all sorts of odd folk. I get taken to flash restaurants, I go to important events but my time in Fingal, my chats with Mick, have always kept my feet on the ground. As I sat with Peter and Mick, I thought to myself “what a gift”. And that gift is something that I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life. The gift is that on that morning together in Bellerive, I was soundly reminded of who I was. It’s bloody important to know who you are and as I cackled away in laughter and just general chatter, I thought to myself “these are my people, this is where I’m from”.
For those who have never moved around like I have, who have never travelled and lived all over the world, that might not sound such an incredible gift. But there really is a lot of bullshit in the world and so much ego and crap that you get weighed down with the pain of it. But that’s never, ever how I felt with Mick. Mick’s final gift to me was to remind me of who I am. That’s a precious and important thing.
I spoke to Mick on the Friday before he went into the doctor on Tuesday to see about his headaches. We had a good chat and as always, he asked how I was, the family, all that. We didn’t again tell each other that we loved each other but it was there, unspoken, my worry for him and his worry for his situation binding us together in silent hope.
Having seen the doctor, he never made it back home. We never got to speak again and I’m sorry about that. But he’s still with me today and like Stack’s Bluff over the Fingal valley, he will always be standing there beside me, looking out that window saying “You love that mountain, don’t you?”
Photo of Stack's Bluff © Copyright. John Evans