Bert has been in my life since I was about three years old. He was one of the wild clan of Scotsmen who had migrated to Australia in the 1950’s and befriended my parents when they arrived as immigrants from the UK in 1965.
I remember many family parties with Bert throughout my childhood, most of which would end with everyone singing traditional Scottish songs like “You Tak’ the High Road”, “Will ye no’ come back again”, “Scottish Soldier”, “The Northern Lights of Auld Aberdeen”, and a few more bawdy ones as well, which, as a child, I didn’t quite understand. One of my early childhood memories is falling asleep on a spare bed at Bert and Kate’s place while the well-oiled adults in the garden down stairs were singing “We’re poor little sheep and we’ve lost our way… Baa, Baa, Baa”.
We went on beach holidays with them – a dozen or more of us crammed into one little beach house called “Bimbo” at Moffat Beach on the Sunshine Coast – some times for up to a week.
Bert had an impish grin. Even when he was stone cold sober, he looked like he’d had a few glasses of Whisky, or if he was about to play a practical joke. One time he appeared on TV as part of the Red Hackle Pipe Band. He played the bass drum, and swung the big fluffy drumsticks grandly as the band marched. Unfortunately, while the TV camera was on him, the tether on one of his drumsticks broke, and the stick went flying through the air. Without skipping a beat, and with his famous cheeky grin, he just kept playing with one drumstick, swinging it wildly on one side of the drum and the other. For a straight faced drummer, it would have been quite a feat. For Bert it was as though he’d pulled off the most spectacular practical joke on TV and had got away with it.
He was a fan of the Brisbane Broncos Rugby League Team. One of his prized possessions what a football autographed by all the members of the 1992 Premiership Team. I know it’s authentic because I was there when they signed it. I watched that premiership game with him and about ten minutes from the end the phone rang. He just picked up the phone, said “Can’t talk, the Broncos are playing” and hung up.
Kate was the love of his life. They never had children together, but it didn’t seem to bother them. They seemed very happy together. Once they said to my Mum and Dad that the only time they regretted not having kids was when Mum and Dad’s grand children came along. Happily, all of my kids got to know Bert and Kate, and to experience a celebration at their home on several occasions.
It’s only as I write this that I realise that Bert gave me something valuable. We were a migrant family, and as such, we rarely met any extended family – aunts, uncles, grandparents. They were far away overseas. Uncle Bert and Auntie Kathy were part of our “adopted” extended family. It was this extended family with whom we spent our childhood Christmases and New Years.
I was fortunate enough to meet up with Bert a couple of weeks ago at Mum’s 70th birthday. His health was declining and he was starting to get difficult to understand. But under it all, he was still the same cheeky Uncle Bert who has known me almost all of my life.
I’ll remember him. And I’ll miss him.