They were men of a regional and industrial town, were Fred and Rupert. They were blue collar, white singleted, gladstone bag toting, Labor-leaning and salt of the earth types. They had an affinity with the bush and to them hard yakka was a constant, not a glib expression. One heaved a bus around the burbs of the North West, the other was part of Burnie’s largest workforce, making paper. The raw material for this was wrenched from our island’s pristine forests without thought. Once upon a time paper was king, but not anymore. Once the government owned and operated the bus service, but not any more. During the working lives of Fred and Rupert manufacturing, mining, forestry and fishing knew no bounds – little ruminating time was set aside for tomorrow or future generations. They both had their passions, of course, but money was always tight – little spare for splurges and they knew the great art of making do. Rampant consumerism was decades away. They had known economic depression and world conflict – and well knew what both could do to dreams. Rupert and Fred built lives for themselves in an industrial town, married well and for life, raising a family.
Of course and sadly, the generation that knew Rupert and Fred is almost gone and yes, Bernard Salt, they did display some elements of Green thinking. Out of necessity they did so – because the alternative was the road to ruin. I liked what you scribed, Mr Salt, but, really, it’s drawing a long bow. I wonder, often, what the likes of Fred and Rupert would have made of today’s world. They would have adapted. They were nothing, that generation, if they were unable to adapt.
The eldest sons of Fred and Rupert bonded in that industrial town – a town blighted by belching smoke-stacks and a toxic sea. These two eldest sons shared enough in common to bring them together – the same classes at school and a fondness for the Burnie Football Club. One would take the other, in his car with the suicide doors, to watch the Tigers play, up and down that coast, come rain, hail and those howling winter westerlies. In the big picture one was a Collingwood tragic, the other was in the process of making the change from the Saints to be blessed by following the ‘piss and the poo’, as the other cruelly referred to the mighty Hawks. One loved the gees-gees and tennis – he was almost unbeatable on the local scene in his pomp. The other’s passion fell more the way of music and literature. As adulthood approached they both found themselves in a position to do what would have been unthinkable for Fred and Rupert at the same point in their lives. A generous government made it possible, with some family scrimping and scraping, to head south to university.
At UTAS – it was never called that back then – the duo of eldest sons was joined by a blond-haired, blue-eyed offspring of a Red Hills farmer, thus immeasurably upping the quotient of good looks possessed by the trio. Through the four years of tertiary study, living at a residential hall (lads only), the three were as thick as thieves; the best of mates.
At some stage during these formative years one of the eldest sons was drawn to a movement. The members of it were trying to save a lake; a lake like no other. Pristine, in the wilderness of the South West, its wide beach of shimmering sand was unique. It was earmarked to go under in the name of progress and jobs. An election was imminent and the little group decided to put up candidates as a means of getting the message out. Thus was formed the United Tasmania Group (UTG), now recognised as the planet’s first Green political party. The eldest son of Rupert was, proudly, a founding member.
Uni finished, careers called and the inseparable trio began to drift apart. Marriage and eventually children came their way, new friendships arose; new priorities.
The Original Green married another warrior for the cause – a woman who became leader at both state and federal levels, following the remarkable Bob Brown. This eldest son devoted himself to raising his family and teaching how to be humane and socially conscious to a legion of students down through the decades.
Sadly the marriage didn’t last and times grew harder for the son of Rupert, that original Green. An illness of body and mind took its toll and he made the decision to move back to that industrial town – to family and his roots.
And, one evening, the two old mates reconnected. A new chapter began in both lives. For very different reasons each was in need of companionship and they gave each other that in spades. Fridays nights at 15 Lane Street became something the son of Fred looked forward to every week. He prepared an evening meal, then settled back with the Original Green to watch the footy on tele – as long as Hawthorn wasn’t playing his pal’s beloved Maggies. The OG would become quite animated, particularly if the umpire made a blue. With both fortified by liberal amounts of cheap reds, much bullshit was spoken, grandiose plans were made and world problems solved.
By now the son of Rupert had another passion – the plight of Burmese minorities – and he spent much time in South East Asia helping out with their cause. It was in that region there occurred his watershed moment – the instant that changed his life markedly for the better. In a Bangkok temple he spotted a Thai village girl releasing a dove to the sky. He thought it was a magical instant, that it was a rare and beautiful thing that he was gifted the witnessing of. To his credit he made his feelings known to the young lady – and finally this son of a Burnie Pulp worker had found his soul mate. It was a deep and abiding love that would survive till the end.
When he was back in Tassie, now accompanied by his new partner, ever widening her horizons, the Friday nights continued – continued with the bonus of her company.
The other Burnie son had by now transitioned from a Labor voter to embrace the Greens, but he was definitely a lighter hue to his best mate. Great arguments were had in great spirit, as one couldn’t bring himself to go the whole hog. He was quite happy for there to be roads into the Tarkine, a cable car to proceed up kunanyi’s ramparts and sensitive tourist developments in the wilderness. To the other that was all sacrilege – a line in the sand just had to be drawn and he was prepared to do that. And don’t dare call this original Green dark. He was true Green – end of the matter.
The two eldest sons had much to look forward to. Son of Fred was invited by son of Rupert to join himself and his beautiful lady to sample village life in Thailand. A plan was hatched to travel to Sydney to reconnect with that son of a Red Hills farmer.
At least the latter partly came about. For, you see, that eldest son, that original Green, that son of Rupert is now engaged in a battle that he knows he cannot win. By the time this is read it may already be lost. But he is fighting it valiantly. Radical new drug therapy may give him some more time and for that he has had the need to fly to Harbour City. On one of these trips he was blessed by the third member of the old uni threesome paying him a visit. The Original Green returned to the former industrial town with such joy in his heart from that encounter – and he gave much joy relating it back to the other member.
So my dearest, oldest and most valued friend is preparing to make the journey up there to beyond the silver lining as Fred, Rupert and the Red Hills farmer have done before him. He is slipping away as I write – but throughout these last weeks and months he has been courageous, stoic and positive. His gorgeous Meimi has tendered him all the way with all that bounteous love she possesses. I will, when the final time comes, grieve for an irreplaceable loss, for what now cannot occur and for those raucous Friday nights of blathery and jest. When it comes, something rare and special will have been lost. My life has been immeasurably enhanced by his presence in it and I too, as soon as is possible, will make a journey to Sydney.
RIP Neville H Milne (27th September, 1952 – 28th October, 2017)