… sharing her dad Stephen ‘Beau’ Waller’s story in loving memory
…. a brother to Marj and Gladys
“My Dad was your quintessential Aussie Bloke, full of Aussie idioms like “fair dinkum”, “pass the dead horse”, “want to go watch the fish jump”, “I’m going to see a man about a dog” and many more that I’m still scratching my head over. He was down to earth, hard-working and quite frankly a bit of a larrakin.
Many know him as Beau and many may just be learning that his actual name was Stephen. Dad got this nickname from a cartoon character named Ben Bowyang, a skinny Aussie farmer that appeared in The Guardian many ions ago and during Dad’s early farming years he was apparently the epitome of this character and the name stuck, so much so that over the years when describing ourselves as his child we would get blank stares, but offer up Beau Waller and straight away people knew who we were and where we fit in.
Dad was a third-generation islander born into a family of 9 children, 5 brothers Jim, Les, Cyril, Don and later Dave and 3 sisters, Dot, Marj and Gladys. His sisters adored him and probably had a monumental role in raising him and his younger brother Dave.
Dad’s father Arthur fought in WW1 at the age of 21 and after several years, returned to KI with a British war nurse bride. Dad’s older brothers also went to war, this time in WW2 also in their very early 20’s. They were a tough stoic family that lived quite a pioneer life in the early years but Dad, maybe because of the influence of his sisters or maybe because he didn’t have to endure the horrors of war, was just a big softie.
Dad was called up for National Service at Woodside but referred to it as play war, after knowing what his father and older brothers went through, he didn’t think his service was worthy of accolades, even refusing to collect his National Service Medal. But he did bring home some stories, probably embellished for a good yarn. He loved to tell stories, usually the same few, like the illegal warm Coca Cola that he kept in his footlocker at Woodside. He’d down a bottle after a hard day of training. “It wasn’t good, terrible stuff, warm but it hit the spot!” He wasn’t supposed to have it but he snuck it in anyway.
Dad started a trial period at the Kingscote Council at the age of 16 as a ganger and soon got himself behind the controls of the grader. His intention was to work at the council while he cleared and built up his own farm at Haines. He used nearly every weekend, every flexi-day and holiday to work his farm while juggling the full-time job at the council. His intention was to buy out surrounding property to enlarge his farm and its earning potential but he just never quite got around to leaving the council.
In the early days at the council, they would camp for a week at a time while working on the western end and he had some stories to tell. From kangaroo tail stew to frozen water, to ant or possum invasions and everything in between, he built some great memories over those times.
If you were ever to describe Dad’s job as a Grader driver you would be swiftly corrected “I’m a grader operator. Anyone can drive a grader, but not just anyone can operate it.” and operate it he did. Dad and his workmates were responsible for clearing, building and maintaining a majority of the roads on Kangaroo Island and he knew the island like the back of his hand. Not only could he shave with precision an even inch off the surface of a road but he also mastered the lazy act of using the grader blade as his own private elevator up to the cab. I’m sure there were more occ health and safety breaches in those day than we would care to imagine. Apparently one particular day in the very early days, the Lord Mayor and council officials arrived to see the progress of a new road that the gang were working on, they happened to have a movie camera with them. And there’s Dad, he was hot and had improvised a shelter for his grader by ripping huge branches of the trees and tying extra leaves on to fashion a makeshift cab. Soon after that visit he got a fancy new grader which had a cab built in!
It was always an exciting adventure for Dad to collect a new grader. He would drive his old beloved machine around to Penneshaw and onto the boat, then sit around patiently awaiting the arrival of his shiny new machine on the return ferry, sometimes even getting a quick trip to the mainland and straight back. Dad went on to wear out 10 graders in total over his career as a grader operator.
Over the years the job changed and his heart wasn’t quite in it like the good old days and with his first grandchild due he thought after 48 ½ years, it was finally time to retire from the council to be around to visit grandchildren. He did often say that he regretted not rounding it out to 50 years exactly and on his last day of work, when he did finally retire, he asked “So is my trial over, did I get the job?”
Mum and Dad went to Kingscote school together and started dating a few years after leaving school. Their first date was to a local barn dance and they continued to date for eight years. Mum must have been a very patient woman waiting so long, I hope it was worth it, I guess 58 years of marriage is proof enough that it was.
Dad’s often changed the version of events that led to their message, but he had his eye on a ute that the council was selling but Grandpa Barrett bought it first and wouldn’t sell it to him so he took his daughter instead. I guess the joke was on Dad cos after 58 years of marriage that ute AND Grandpa were long gone!
The newlyweds rented in Kingscote for two years while they built their first house in Brownlow on Poppa Wallers land and it was here that they had their first child, Greg. During their time at Brownlow, Chris was born and then me, in 1972. We kept just one sheep in the spare paddock next to us, Dad thought it would be a treat for the visitors staying in Blucher cabins and the caravan park and more importantly, prevent him from ever having to mow that particular space.
Dad was always keen to live out on the farm and fourteen years after moving into Brownlow it was finally time to move onto the Farm where they lived for 37 years in the second house that they built. With Mum by his side, they worked the farm on Wallers Road until his second retirement in 2011.
Dad always said he should have named the farm “Goodview” as everyone who stepped foot on the property would say, “Oh you’ve got a good view!”
On the farm I was Dad’s right-hand woman, well really, I think Greg was probably a more productive right-hand man but I thought I was pretty important too. I would steer the truck while he fed out hay from the back. He only fell off a couple of times if I hit a stump or accidentally hit the accelerator a bit hard, but with me being under 10 my driving skills weren’t very good. I would also wait in the ute for hours while he did laps of a paddock ploughing, seeding, or spreading super. Dad and I spent hours on the motorbike together, I would seat myself up on the petrol tank of his motor bike, then progressing to the back seat and eventually my own bike where we would ride around the farm checking on sheep, crops or just exploring, sometimes we would ride down on the beach.
Sometimes when we were in a public place, like Rundle Mall, Dad would threaten to yodel at the top of his voice, much to the horror of my sister and I. He would take in a dramatic breath and wait for us to either start begging or disperse as quickly as possible. I’m not sure if he really would have broken out into public song but I can confirm that he could actually yodel, just not well and it wasn’t a risk we were willing to take.
When Mum suddenly got sick in the beginning of this year, he was pining for her terribly, he would ring nightly for updates and speak to her whenever she could manage it, talking once again like two teenagers. Dad hated being away from Mum and was desperate to get up to her so when he was shipped off to Flinders for his own health issues, I think he was relieved to be back with his bride. The hospital bent rules and worked their magic and eventually they ended up in the same ward. Dad was with Mum holding her hand when she had her last seizure that put her into sedation which sadly, she never really woke from so although he didn’t remember that event, I like to think that that was Mum’s last conscious memory.
Dad survived three heart attacks, prostate cancer, the death of all of his brothers and constant infections over the last years through the sheer force of will, but in the end, he just didn’t want to be here without Mum and after five weeks his heart just stopped, whether from another heart attack or simply a broken heart, we don’t know but we hope that they are together again.”