In July, I have been in Toodyay for 25 years. I was born in Swan Districts in Perth, we lived there for four years before moving to Christchurch for 11 years. We returned to Perth when I was 16 years old.
I found out after my grandfathers death that his name had been changed on his birth certificate. He had been born out of wedlock.
Our true family name is Dickson who owned a printing press and started the paper in Christchurch. My great grandmother didn’t like the fact that her sister had a baby out of wedlock so she adopted my father and had all the papers changed. She had the power.
They put her in a TB hospital and said she had TB and let her stay there until she died even though she didn’t have TB.
I went to Christchurch for a holiday and went into an antique book shop – I was drawn to the corner to look at a bunch of pictures and I found a picture of a cathedral in England and on there it had printing proof number 1 Dickson Press. It was the first print that had come off the printing press in Christchurch from what was technically my family’s business. I bought it and it matched a photo from the family history book. I had actually bought the original picture.
In fact, the owner of the shop had had the picture hanging up in her house for years and had only taken it down because of water damage and taken it to the shop to be sold. So, I managed to secure an important bit of family history almost by accident. It was meant to be.
My father was looking at buying a new place and was looking at a five hectare block. They looked at lots of blocks and couldn't find anything quiet right.
They found one on top of a hill and as it turns out that it was on the land that had been part of the TB hospital where is real grandmother had been and passed away. They lived in that house for 20 years. It is funny how things happen.
I had an older brother and younger sister but they both passed away. I was the child in the middle. I was christened in hospital because they told my mum that I wouldn’t survive. It was pretty safe growing up in Christchurch. We didn’t know any danger. Coming off your bike on black ice in winter is horrific because its invisible you just can’t see it until you hit it.
There are many memorable moments I have had in my life so far. One of them would be going to New York within 12 months of September 11. There were still making it ground zero. I was with Richard. Its interesting that if you stand on the footpath opposite Century 21 – you hear all the hustle and bustle of the noisy city. But as soon as you stood near the fencing - it went silent. You know that you were in a spiritual place – it was mass grave.
Last month, I went back to NY with Simon and went to the museum and felt angry about what happened. You can see re-creation of the scene. Real debris. They have left old footings of the buildings. Stairs where people had tried to get out. They have digital hi tech rooms – recreating the incident. On the morning of September 11 – half of the NY taxi drivers called in sick. People couldn’t then get to work so it saved people’s lives. It could have been a worse death toll.
I met Richard through friends in the city. He was already living and working in Toodyay. His accountant told him that a medical centre wouldn’t work – but he bought it anyway. It was originally located at the Curry Club Cafe.
I have always been involved in the Toodyay Christmas Street Party. I helped do the big one the year after the fire. We had no funding so a private family in Perth gave us $10K, Richard and I gave us $5K and the Bank gave us another $5K – we needed $20K. It was arranged all within three weeks. It needed to happen. It needed to be the break.
Our house survived the Toodyay fire – but nothing around us survived. We didn’t have water, fences and power. We were busy cleaning up our property and putting our lives back together.
So Richard was living with the damage to his home whilst also hearing the stories of other people that had lost everything. Some days I could see that it really got to him. Everybody has something on their chest and your local GP is the one that everyone goes to.
The best community we ever had was when the fire happened. Good came out of bad.
We had a lady called Rita helping us when Richard was sick. She once asked himself ‘why me?’ and he answered ‘why not me’ and she was floored. He felt so sorry for all years he treated people for cancer that he didn’t really know what they were going through. He thought he did but he didn’t.
The day that Richard died was the day they legalised same sex marriage in New Zealand. We wanted to go to Milford Sound in New Zealand – it was a big thing he had been planning when he was sick. He was still planning on doing things but just never got there.
I took his ashes 12 months later and put him in a boat. We took my mum and dad with his wife and put him in a little wooden boat and it kept going out and out and w out to the ocean – it should have sunk but it didn’t. I took his ashes to four other special places including a tiny cathedral on a hill in the South of France.
My love of Christmas started when I was six years old. We were living in New Zealand and we had an amazing tree. So when we used to travel we went around looking at these amazing Christmas shops around the world. We used to bring back little things to put into the medical centre.
So when Richard was sick – he said we should open a Christmas shop so that he could have a job and come and price stuff for a few hours a day. We finally got the shop. Richard saw it as an abandoned building - he climbed up and said there is a lot of work to be done here.
He never set foot back in the building again. He never saw it open. It was opened on the 5th July – which was actually the day we met.
Richard was awarded the RACGP Rural Health Award when he was already sick. I wasn’t expending to win it. After he died he was awarded an Order of Australia. If Richard was alive he wouldn’t have accepted the award – he would have asked 'what have I really done that is amazing' – other people have created vaccines and I haven’t.
I met my current partner Simon three years ago. It’s a different relationship and it has to be I guess. He has also lost a partner too. We had a bit in common. Its really good. I’m happy again. We are making new memories.
My advice would be have dreams, make plans, aim for the sky. If you reach half-way you have done well. Be open to new things. Put yourself out there. Life isn’t a text book.
Human – Sean Byron
Interviewers –Tom Gratis Roh & Anna Cornish
Photographer – Anna Cornish