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U3A Writing: Dave’s Ashes

The scattering of Dave's ashes was more eventful than planned,as J Leary records.

That was the start, Dave: I agreed I'd take the ashes to the river below the winery on the first Saturday after they were delivered to Margaret and Jeff. I didn't envisage anything complicated, just a short trip to the middle of the river below the cliffs, where I'd throw your ashes into the water without any fuss.

But the idea grew. The first offer came, from lock Anderson. "Let me come with you'" he said. "I'll bring me bagpipes and pipe you as you throw them overboard. He'd like that, you know." The idea of being on the river with Jock blowing those bloody noisy bagpipes in my ear didn't really appeal to me, but I could hardly say no, could I.

Bob Meadows was next. "I'll accompany you in my boat. I'll bring Shorty with me and we'll photograph you as you do it. Photos will be good for Margaret and Jeff, you know. Might be able to get them in Sunraysia Daily, even."

Soon it seemed everyone wanted a piece of the proposed action. Before you knew it we had a whole party-six or seven of your mates who would come along, to make a contribution or simply to be there.

And then someone changed the direction of the proposal. "Why don't we make a whole weekend of it? We could go out to Snaggy Point or the Redbank for a camp, and scatter the ashes as a highlight of the camp."

"Yeah, Dave would like that. He didn't like fishing below the winery anyway."

Soon it was decided: on the weekend at the end of the month a group of us would go to the Redbank on Friday after work. We'd establish the camp, get a fire going, put the boats in the river etc. The others would join us on Saturday, and on the Sunday Jeff would bring Margaret and your ashes out there. We'd scatter them in the river in her presence that afternoon. A sort of weekend-long wake as well as a spring camp.

I don't need to tell you the details Dave. All went as planned. We had a good day on the river, caught quite a few Yellow-bellies. All day, and especially at the fire that night, you dominated our thoughts and conversations. Nothing morbid, just good humoured chat and banter. We reminisced about good times spent with you. We exaggerated your good points (especially your fishing ability), ignored your bad points. Jock recited some of your favourite Robbie Burns poems, but they didn't sound as good as you would have made them sound. You would have enjoyed it all, I'm sure.

Jeff and Margaret arrived on the Sunday, just before lunch. Margaret had the urn in a shopping bag. We left it on the front seat of Jeff s ute while we ate and had a few beers.

Blinky had prepared a metal plate with your name and the date of your death and the message "A Scot who loved the River" on it: we got Margaret to choose a tree to nail it to. She selected a sturdy tree near the track, about thirty yards from the water. Blinky wanted to nail it facing the river, but Margaret insisted it should be on the back of the tree facing away from the track. "People won't see it there unless they know about it" she said. "And that's what Dave would like. He wasn't a man to seek the limelight."

I wasn't sure I agreed, but no one wanted to argue with her, so Blinky stood on a block of wood we had cut for the fire and nailed it reverently with four strong roofing nails. We cheered a bit when it was done, and raised our tinnies high. Even Margaret had a beer.

Then I took the urn and went to my boat. Jock played "Scotland the Brave" as I started the outboard. He was so loud I could hardly hear the motor, but it sounded good in the bush. Someone pushed me away from the bank. I was alone. I had offered a seat to Margaret but she had declined. "You don't need me in the boat," she said, "But please stay close to the bank so all of us can see you well."

What I had to do now wasn't easy, Dave. I killed the motor. By this time Jack was playing a lament and I guess it was the melancholy music that brought tears to my eyes. I had planned to stand up, take a handful of the ashes and scatter them in the wind to fall onto the water. But when it came to the crunch I found I couldn't do that. Something inside me failed and I suddenly realised I did not want to feel your ashes on my fingers. I simply took the lid off the metal urn and poured the ashes into the water. I watched them float away on the current. The water was clear that day, they made a sort of black cloud for a minute or so. Suddenly I saw a swirl as a big fish swam right through that cloud. It could have been a carp, but I prefer to think it was a large cod. And I like to think that somehow in that moment that cod collected your spirit, Dave.

The music stopped and the river seemed very silent. I started the motor again and drove back to the bank.

There have been quite a few changes in the twenty years since that weekend, Dave. We're all still mates; because of age we don't fish nearly as often and we don't travel as far as we used to for fishing. I get out on the river quite often in the warm months, sometimes with Shorty, but often on my own. I still catch quite a few.

Margaret lives in an old people's home in Mildura these days. When I made my Christmas visit last year I don't think she recognised me. Bob Meadows died a few years ago - cancer got him, too. Jock Anderson has gone home to Scotland, he said it would be only a short visit, but that was five years ago and he hasn't made it back to Merbein yet. I don't see Jeff any more; I suspect he has left the district.

The plate's still there, Dave. I check it fairly regularly, perhaps once a year. I don't take flowers, just my hammer, but Blinky's nails have done a good job, it hasn't ever shifted. I sit by the river and drink a can before driving home, t have never seen any sign that it has been disturbed, even though the Redbank's more popular than ever with fishermen these days. There's a group of motorcyclists who use the area regularly. Their track goes close by your tree and I feel certain some of them must have seen your plate but they have never interfered with it. One person who does know about it is a beekeeper from Irymple, who occasionally leaves his hives in the area. He saw me once when I was visiting the place and he asked me about it. I told him all he needs to know, and his remark was "I hope my mates will do something like that for me when my time comes." So I'm sure he leaves it alone.

Hence I suspect the only ones who disturb your peace are the kangaroos and emus that frequent that part of the river. And that's the way it should be, I think.


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