Eulogy for my father

The eulogy delivered at my father’s funeral on 20th January 2015, in Whyalla, South Australia.

Family and friends—thank you all for coming today, especially those who have travelled from outside Whyalla.

We are here to pay our respects and honour and remember the life of my father, Ian Robertson, born 20 August 1926, Kinlochleven, Scotland, died 11 January 2015, Whyalla.

To paraphrase the words of the poet, Dylan Thomas, my father did not go gently into that good night. He did rage, rage against the dying of the light. However by all accounts and mercifully, the end when it came was peaceful.

I would like to thank the nurses and staff of the Yeltana nursing home, who cared for my father in the last months of his life. They do a difficult and stressful job, day after day, with a smile on their faces. They are amazing and I’m sure I speak for the whole family when I say we are grateful for their efforts.

I would also like to thank my sister Carol and her family here in Whyalla for the support they provided to my father, particularly since my mother Betty died in 2013. Although he missed my mother terribly, with the help of Carol and her family and the great people at Whyalla Aged Care, Dad was able to live at home for almost a year after she died. That was no longer possible after he fell and broke his hip last August.

After Dad moved into Yeltana, once again Carol and her family were constant visitors and continued to provide great support to him right up to the day he died. I know it was sometimes difficult, particular in the latter days, so on behalf of myself, my brother David and our families, thank you Carol for playing that role so well.

1985 One Steel

1985 One Steel

Dad, lower right, at One Steel, Whyalla circa 1985.

Some of you here today will remember my father as a work colleague at the BHP and One Steel steelworks. He was an overhead crane driver and a staunch trade union member. He was a long-time delegate and President of the Whyalla Branch of the FEDFA—the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association. That union is now part of the CFMEU (the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union).

On his retirement in 1991, Dad was awarded a Certificate of Merit by the FEDFA in recognition of his 25 years of service.

My brother David put it well in notifying the CFMEU of his passing.

Dad was conscientious and professional in his dealings and negotiations with the company on behalf of his members. It was a role that he took a lot of pride in. He could play the diplomat at times, but was always resolute in strong advocacy for the workers. Compromises were only made where the overall outcome was to the benefit of the members.

1992 Referee Swandel Park

1992 Referee Swandel Park

Dad running a line at Swandel Park, home of Whyalla Wanderers, circa 1992

Others of you will remember him through his involvement with football in Whyalla. He became a referee at age 40, shortly after arriving in Whyalla, and continued to referee well into his seventies.

His service was recognised with life membership of the Whyalla Branch of the Australian Soccer Referees Federation in 1977.

Again David expressed it well when he notified the Referees Federation of Dad’s passing.

Dad refereed in Whyalla for a long time both in the NASA and local competitions, including trips to Port Augusta and Port Pirie (by light aircraft at times). Dad took his responsibilities seriously and professionally; and was highly respected both on and off the field.

Dad was also President of the local Referees branch and actively participated in the recruitment and development of new referees.

Dad was also very active in officiating in the Whyalla Amateur League; and could always be relied on to ref a junior game when needed.

My sister Carol has asked me to say a few words on behalf of herself and her family.

Our Dad Ian Robertson, how do I begin?

My memories of growing up are of knowing my Dad was always there for me when I would call on him.

As I got older I learned a lot from him on how to treat people. I learned that if you wanted respect you had to show it first.

Dad was a man who worked very hard at his job to earn money to make life in Australia better for his family. His time away from work was spent at the many soccer fields in Whyalla doing the hardest job of all—officiating. I would go to many matches and really loved the game. I wanted to play but was told – you are a girl.

Hopefully things are a bit different these days Carol.

1949 Kinloch rock

1949 Kinloch rock

Dad in Kinlochleven, circa 1949.

My father was born and grew up in Kinlochleven, a small industrial village set in the wild, natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands. In many ways, Kinlochleven is similar to Whyalla. They are both small metal-working communities built in rather inhospitable surroundings.

In Kinlochleven’s case, the metal involved was aluminium and the town’s somewhat uninviting environment was down to two factors—it was cold and it was wet. In fact the mountain area behind Kinlochleven is the wettest place in the British Isles, with an average annual rainfall of over 100 inches. Taking advantage of this natural resource, a dam was built there in the years before the First World War to generate hydroelectricity to smelt the aluminium.

In Whyalla’s case, as you all well know, the metal is steel and the environment is hot and dry. So from one extreme to the other!

But that is often the lot of the working class—you go where the work is.

1946 Army kilt

1946 Army kilt

Dad in his Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regimental uniform, Palestine 1946

Like many of his generation, my dad spent his school years in the Great Depression and his teenage years in World War 2. He was called up on his 18th birthday—two months after the D-Day landings—and in later years loved to regale us with tales of his time in the army. He served in Palestine with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in the post-war period, at a time when Zionists were carrying out terrorist bombings in support of the creation of the state of Israel. He often told us how he was lucky that he walked past the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946 just half an hour before a Zionist bomb went off killing 91 people.

After he was demobbed he worked in the Forestry Commission in the Highlands, in the shipyards on the Clyde in Glasgow, then back at the British Aluminium works in Kinlochleven.

He met my mother, the love of his life, at a dance in nearby Fort William; they married, had me, and lived with his parents for a while in Kinlochleven. But having seen a bit of the world, he was restless and when the prospect of work in England came up—at the Stewarts & Lloyds steelworks in Corby—he moved down and my mother and I followed shortly after.

His reference from Stewarts & Lloyds, where he worked for ten years says:

During this period you have been employed as a Fitter’s Mate, Greaser and Crane Driver in our Steelmaking Department and have given every satisfaction in your work and timekeeping.

Can’t ask fairer than that eh?

Tea chest

Tea chest

My sister Carol and bother David were born in Corby but in 1966, mum and dad saw the writing on the wall for the British steel industry. Enticed by the promise of 300 days a year of sunshine and an assisted passage, they signed us up for a four-week sea voyage to the other side of the world and almost fifty years later, here we are.

As my nephew Matthew, David’s eldest son, wrote last week on Facebook,

My Grandfather was one of the strongest and bravest people I’ve ever known. Nearly 50 years ago he made one of the most insanely terrifying decisions I can think of. He and my Grandmother took their 3 young children (my father being only 5 years old) and moved half way around the world. He moved from Britain to Whyalla as a steel worker to create a better life for his family and in doing so created amazing lives for his 7 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

After dad had his fall last year I came over from Sydney for a couple of weeks to spend some time with him and help Carol sort through the things in the house. Out the back, in the rumpus room, we found one of the tea chests into which we had packed all our possessions for that 1966 trip: ‘Mr I. Robertson—M.V. Fairsea—Southampton to Adelaide’ still written on the side. Mum and dad didn’t like to throw things away.

Dad’s passion for football was strongly evident in the large number of videotapes of football games stashed away in various parts of the house. His love of Scottish music was apparent from the number of LPs and cassette tapes of the Corries, Andy Stewart, the Alexander Brothers, Calum Kennedy and others. He also loved to read about Scottish history. Among other volumes, he had just about a complete set of the popular histories of Nigel Tranter, covering Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Rob Roy MacGregor.

1978 long beer

1978 long beer

At a Saturday night sing-song in Whyalla, circa 1978

As Carol remembers,

My dad was an active member of the St. Andrews Society. This was a big part of my parents’ lives with social functions that they enjoyed very much. There were also many Saturday night sing-songs at peoples’ homes with friends coming together to sing and share a supper.

In conclusion, Carol has asked me to say the following on her behalf.

I have so many special memories of my parents that I will treasure and remember when I think of them, which will be every day for the rest of my life.

Knowing that he is in no more confusion and pain, makes losing Dad a little easier, but I do miss him terribly.

Dad is reunited with his beautiful wife and our special Mum, which is what he had wanted for a long time now. God saw how hard it was getting for him and reached out and told him to come and rest and be with Betty again.

He will be missed by all the members of his family, each in their own way. Hope he gets to ref some games up there. And spend special moments with Betty. Happy dreams now. God bless.

Love forever Carol and Chris Simon Prue Zoe Elise Kaitlyn and Liam

It’s interesting that my dad was the only one of his parents’ six children to move away from Scotland. But while he lived here for nearly fifty years, he remained fiercely Scottish in spirit.

The song he wrote about his birthplace, My Kinlochleven Home, is certainly strong evidence of that. The first verse and chorus go like this:

If I could live my life again, if all my dreams were true
I would leave my sorrow far behind, and be again with you
I’d stand no more upon the shore and gaze across the sea
I’d be home in Kinlochleven, where my heart will ever be

Home again, home again, to that dear beloved glen
and the town of Kinlochleven; it shall be my home again.

Thanks for everything dad. Rest in peace, or as they say in the Highlands

“Gus am bris an là agus an teich na sgàilean”

(Until day breaks and the shadows retreat).

Photo By: Deborah Handley. Me, Dad and my brother David at Eucalypt St, Whyalla circa 1987.

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