William Dall – Father
by his son Ian
Dad’s bedtime stories were an institution in our home. We all loved story time, sitting in a line on the couch, waiting for your turn. Dr Seuss, Winne-the-Pooh and Alice in Wonderland became part of our family culture. Reading the same stories to five children who also demanded repetition, meant Dad came to know many of these stories by heart. I recall feeling that this was cheating a bit and insisted he actually read them!
He read us non-fiction too which was my first introduction to science, discovery, invention and engineering. From Dad I learnt to value learning, not just for its practical value or the qualifications you could gain, but because the pursuit of knowledge was worthwhile in itself.
Dad loved the sea although actual beaches? Not so much. When we’d had our fill of sand and surf, Dad loved to show us the natural wonders in the intertidal rock pools, which were there for those who chose to look. Even though I didn’t follow my Dad into the biological sciences, I took delight in showing my own son how to feed anemones in the rock pools as Bill had shown me. Douglas now loves to do this himself and will show anyone who he can interest.
Children are probably not allowed into laboratories these days without a full OH&S hazard assessment, but Dad loved to show us his experiments on frequent visits to the Zoology Department at the University of Queensland and the CSIRO Labs at Trigg Island and at Cleveland. We also would occasionally go on field trips and make a picnic of it. These vignettes, helped me think that life as a scientist would be good. I still recall a machine with a fascinating glowing display and thinking, at five years old, how cool it would be to have a job watching it.
Dad was an intellectual in all sorts of ways, but he was also a very practical man. He loved to work with wood making simple utilitarian furniture for the young family and fine cabinet work later in life when time and budget permitted. In later years he took up silver-smithing making pieces treasured by Patricia, his daughters and daughters-in-law. Woodwork was Dad’s favourite medium, but he would turn his hand to anything from bricklaying to tiling to fixing broken appliances and toys.
Dad taught me to respect tools and how I should positively, definitely not leave them in the sandpit! As well as practical skills, Dad imparted a “can-do” attitude. Everything could be understood, anything could be made, anything could be fixed if you chose to do so. I also learned that no matter how careful you were, you would make bungles. “Half the battle,” he would say “is knowing how to cover up your mistakes.”
Of course, things didn’t always go according to plan. Early in their married life, Bill offered to reshape Pat’s spectacle frames so as to better fit her face. He put them in the oven to soften them but they softened a little too much. There was no recovery from that bungle!
Recently I was sitting at the table with my 11 year old son, Douglas, who was in a rare reflective mood. “You’re a good Dad,” he said. “Because”, he said, “you know how things work and how to make things and how to fix things.” Bill must have taught me well.
So I say to Bill, “thank you.” Thank you for being a good Dad. Thank you for being my Dad.