Reflections at his Funeral
April 25, 2011
It is Anzac Day 2011 when I start to write these words for my Father’s Funeral. I reflect that until the last year of his life, he has told me very little of his time in the armed forces. But during the last few months of his life I was fortunate to be around him, and hear some of his last thoughts, which did include some account of his time of active service in Borneo. His own account of his time at war should be calibrated according to his propensity for self deprecation and understatement, for example in his account of landing at Balikpapan mentions that they “only got a few shells dropped among our landing barges”. But in deference to Anzac day of this week, let it be said that my Father endured arduous battle conditions and lethal enemy fire, while laying vital communications cables through the jungles of Borneo. The 2/9th Infantry Battalion’s campaign against Japan was successful. But my father was never a man to glorify war. His written account makes little of the victory, but says “Then came Hiroshima, and I knew enough then to be horrified at the enormity…”
I think many of us will remember him mainly as a man of science, a superb craftsman, an intellectual, and a wise and reflective sage. Yet it has to be said that he was also a physically strong man, capable of fierce anger, and in every aspect of his diverse capabilities, a force to be reckoned with. He was also, paradoxically, a quiet man.
Yes, my Father was a paradoxical man. A very Australian amalgam of excellence and self effacement, a curious confluence of profanity and profundity, a man presenting with the manners of a scholarly gentleman, yet withering in his contempt for the superficial preoccupations and pretensions of the class conscious.
Also paradoxical was his sense of humour, often so dry and understated that it was undetectable to many. During his last weeks in the hospital, one of the nearby patients was very voluble, and after being generally babied by the attendant nursing staff, the patient responded in kind by flinging some magazines to the floor. The nurse admonished a stern scolding for the wilful mistreatment of the magazines, which were the kind of glossy celebrity tabloids which seem to pervade hospital waiting rooms and hairdressing salons. My father piped up in apparent support of the authorities : “Those are important documents!” he cried, with mock indignation.
I am sure others today are speaking of his many admirable qualities, and I will not try to address them all in this brief speech. I have much to thank my father for, many valuable life skills which he has taught me, and his life time of hard work. As well as adding greatly to the realm of scientific knowledge, his work has earned the resources and built the homes which have allowed myself and the rest of his family to be sheltered, fed, and above all, educated, to make our various ways into this very difficult world.
Above all, I thank him for being who he is, a paradoxical and complex man of diverse talents. Thank you, Dr. Bill Dall, my father, for sharing your talents, your complexity, and your uniqueness.