Dennis Meagher
Mon, April 30, 2012 at 17:33
Stephanie Hunt

Rob Lyons tells me that Dennis Meagher is the most interesting person he knows on the Coast.  As it turns out, he doesn’t really know all that much about Dennis, except that he is always willing to pitch in at the Surf Club.  He does know that Dennis is coming up to his 50th wedding anniversary and suspects that in all those years of life there must be some interesting stories.

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Slivers of History

It needs to be said that I fall a little bit in love with Dennis Meagher and his wife Lynne.  In their 70s they look fit and healthy, but have an older person’s love of looking back.  We sit around the kitchen table and I don’t need to ask questions.  Dennis launches right into his history.  “I was born in 1939 just before the war started,” he begins and it’s not long before Lynne is chiming in with her own bits of the story.  We wade through old photo albums: telegrams, letters from long dead relatives, letters from Dennis to his mother, wedding photos and pictures of their three boys.

On the surface Dennis’s story is straightforward.  Born in Lithgow, in the Blue Mountains north of Sydney, his father died suddenly when Dennis was only 3 and his mother struggled to make ends meet.  “They had no pensions in those days for wives,” Dennis recalls.  “So she had to go to Sydney to get a job and my aunty looked after me.”

His mother got on her feet and Dennis joined her in Sydney.  He met Lynne when he was 21 and an apprentice plumber.  “A blind date I might add,” Lynne pipes in.  For 24 years he was a plumber, starting in Sydney and then heading to a booming Canberra in 1969.  Over those years he and Lynne had 3 sons, Christopher, Peter and Paul.  “We tried for a Mary,” Lynne chimes in again.  When Dennis’s plumbing business hit trouble, he found a job driving a bus.  For the next 18 years he drove a bus along the busy streets of Canberra before taking a redundancy in 1994 and moving to Sawtell to bump along the back roads to Urunga and Hungry Head.  In 2004 Dennis retired, which gives him time to devote to the Sawtell Surf Club and his beloved grandchildren.

What is fascinating about Dennis is not so much the chronicling of his life, but the slivers of history in each of his stories……

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Consider the story of Lynne’s conversion to Catholicism in order to marry Dennis.  “It was the early days of Catholics and Protestants.  Things were different then,” says Lynne.

She remembers the reaction.  “Mum said all the time I could go out with whoever I wanted – bring home Jewish people, black people it didn’t matter.  But as soon as I got serious with Dennis that changed.  She told me the priest would take away my children.  But I said Mum this is the way it’s going to be.”

Dennis had his own run-ins with Lynne’s mother.  “Being Catholic we didn’t eat meat on Friday,” he recalls.  “I’d go to the bowling club with Lynne’s father and when we came back there’d be baked dinner.  Always a baked dinner.  So I ate the vegetables.  I thought I’m digging in here.”

One would like to hope that things have changed since then.

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Or go back a bit further to Dennis’s year as a hand on a big sheep station in South Australia.  At 18 Dennis came down with hepatitis and very nearly died.  “I was an apprentice plumber at a place in Sydney where they had billeted the soldiers during the war,” he remembers.  “It was dilapidated and I picked up the germ out there.” 

Doctors told Dennis he needed to move to a drier climate.  The local priest had a brother on a sheep station in Streaky Bay on the Eyre Peninsula who arranged for Dennis to get a job.  He reads me the telegram that an 18 year old boy who had never been away from home sent to his mother.  “Arrived safely.  Letter following.  Love Dennis.”

“It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life, but it’s the best thing I ever did in my life,” recalls Dennis.   “In those days there was no electricity on the Eyre Peninsula.  So I used to sleep in this little hut and I had to turn the generators on every night.  I had to milk cows, everything.  I was a city slicker.  I had no idea.”

Forty-seven years later, the year Dennis retired, he and Lynne returned to Streaky Bay.  “I showed Lynne where I used to sleep.”  Dennis smiles and Lynne takes up the story.  “You could visualize all the horses and carts pulling in with the ladies with their long dresses.  That’s how old it was.”

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Or consider Uncle Jimmy and the horrors of WWII.  Dennis’s mother came to Australia from England in 1929 with her brother Jim.  Dennis takes up the story.  “Jim enlisted in the sixth division and they got captured in Greece in 1940.  Jim was an embroiderer so he made an Australian flag (while he was imprisoned) and brought it back with him.  When he returned in 1945 he went to Concord Repat Hospital and that’s where he stayed until he died in 1948.”

The Australian flag that Jim embroidered now hangs in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and Christopher has taken his parents to see the fragile relic of Dennis’s family history.  And only a few months ago Dennis returned to Concord Hospital to have a cancer removed from his eye and the memories came streaming back.  “I was 9 when I went there just before Jim died,” he recalls.  “I’ll always remember the place: small little rooms with a bed each side and the old steam heater radiators.  I had never wanted to go back.  And blow me down, it was exactly the same.”

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And the history lesson goes back even further.  Dennis digs up a picture of his father’s family.  His grandparents lived in a wagon and travelled from one shearing job to the next.  “My grandmother’s mother came from Ireland, from County Amargh.” Dennis goes further back.  “She was sent out here as a convict.”

Five years ago, Dennis was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  When he went in to the Base Hospital for radiation treatment his doctor, a good Irishman named Noel Ahearn, said, “With a name like Meagher you must be Irish.  You’ve got to get over there.”

Dennis tells me, “We think we’ve got a lot but we’re only on the pension.  We didn’t have the money (to go to Ireland).  But (Dr. Ahearn) said, “Don’t worry about the money.  I’ll give you the accommodation for a month.””

So with the generosity of an Irish doctor and the gift of an airline ticket from his children, Dennis and Lynne returned to his roots.  “Even now we say “why us?  Why did we deserve this?””

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I suspect the answer to that question is karma.  In his own way, Dennis has given his time and his love to other people for all of his 73 years.  You can feel his love in the letters he sent to his mother as a young man.  You can see it in the way his eyes twinkle as he looks at the woman he has been married to for almost 50 years.  You can sense it in the way his chest puffs with pride when he hands me the picture of his handsome grown sons.  

Recently Dennis and Lynne fixed up their wills and got things sorted with the funeral parlour.  Dennis wants them to play Miss Peggy Lee when he goes.  He starts to sing, “If that’s all there is….then let’s keep dancing.”

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Amongst the photos and letters we trawled through was this letter that Dennis wrote for his grandchildren last Christmas.  Not only does this give you and impression of the man, but its awfully good advice.

Treasure the love of your parents and be aware of what they contribute to your life, and at the same time (and more importantly) what you can do to make their life full, which may only require a smile or a friendly word.

Look around and discover (to our amazement sometimes) that the world does not centre around oneself and we only become special (important if you like) when we can see the needs of others before your own.  This does not mean we neglect our own way in life.

Go through life expecting nothing more than what we contribute ourselves and you will never be disappointed.

Be a good listener – there are many people who are “deaf” to what you may have to say no matter how good your wisdom may be.  But you have lost nothing except a little time.

Never be ashamed to be a bit of a larrikin at times and learn to laugh at yourself and share the moment with those around you.  A friendly smile and kind word is priceless yet it costs nothing to give away.

Stay firm with your principles.  There will be times when they will be tested, but that’s all part of life’s course.

Be happy.

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Dennis claims that Geoff Mould is a little older than him and a lot more interesting.  At 80 Geoff coaches the Coffs Rugby Union side and he’s travelled all around the world.  Dennis assures me we will get along, because Geoff has the gift of the gab.

 

Article originally appeared on The Most Interesting Person I Know (http://themostinterestingpersoniknow.net/).
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