Stories

Peter Randall

Peter Randall

78, Wellington Views

When I got married, I got married to a woman who was a widow with two kids. And the kids came home one day and said ‘we want to talk to you’ and I said oh okay – this is me at 23 years of age mind you. And I said what’s the problem and they said ‘we want to be known as your family not ours’. And I said oh okay, and they said ‘would you mind?’ and I said why would I mind [chuckles]. Well, I sat there and cried when she told me. So, I’m now 77 and my daughter, who’s in that photograph over there, she’s 61 [chuckles]. One of the good things about having someone else’s kids as opposed to having your own is you don’t have to look after them, you don’t have to do anything, they’re housetrained. They were seven and five at the time and my wife was 26. We made a rule before we got married that there weren’t going to be any step children, I hate that expression. You even see it in death notices – and I used to have to read all of the death notices – and that used to absolutely piss me off. I thought well if it’s good enough for you to marry the woman why can’t you accept the kids, but that’s me. I have five kids, I’ve got three now still. I’ve lost two of them – I lost one 40 odd years ago would you believe. He was nearly 20. He got killed in an accident down at Richmond. He was working for Repco, and he had a Repco van and it had a six-cylinder motor in the back of the van, and he was coming back towards Richmond. And now what was it – Nicholson was his name, [he] and his two sisters had sat in the Richmond Arms Hotel all bloody day, and he got stoned and drove up the hill out of Richmond on the wrong side of the road. So, he went up the hill like that, and Shane was coming up the hill from the other side and hit him head on. And the bloke was driving a Gemini and he bounced off the roof of the van, that’s how fast he was going. And I wasn’t too happy about all that, and would you believe it happened two days before Mother’s Day, just what you need. All four of them got killed.

My other son, well to put it bluntly, he got framed for something that was just a load of absolute nonsense, and unbeknownst to everybody he had an aneurysm while he was in the jail. I can’t remember what they call them but they’re minor heart attacks, and they described it as going like that [clapping noise] then this one went [clap sound]. That was it. And when they came around to tell me, the poor old padre up there said to me ‘I’ve got some bad news for you’ and I thought this is blood – mind you this was two days before he was due to be released. So, once again it wasn’t a real good day. And he said to me ‘I’ve got some bad news for you, Craig dropped dead this morning over at the jail’, I said you’ve got to be bloody joking; he said ‘no unfortunately it’s true’. He was 42 and had been in jail three years and four months.

Growing up, I didn’t like New Town High and I didn’t like the system. So, my brothers, we had Ken, John, Kevin, Robin and then me all go through the same primary school and then go to New Town High. The difference was Ken was the head prefect, he was the Captain of Hunter House, and every damn thing that I ever did they’d say ‘oh you don’t do this like John’ or ‘you don’t do this like Kevin’. And I used to say to them take a bloody good look at me mate, because I’m not Ken and I’m not Kevin and I’m not John. And in the [end] I turned around and said to them I’d like to get a transfer, and they said ‘to where?’ and I said Ogilvie, and they said ‘we’re not going to give it to you’ and I said alright in that case when I go home on Friday afternoon I’m not coming back. So, I went into the Education Department, it used to be up near the library, and they were quite nice and they said ‘what can we do for you?’, and I said either give me the exemption or transfer me to Ogilvie. ‘Oh well this is most unusual’, blah, blah, blah, and I said well please your bloody self, but on Monday morning I will not be at New Town High. I was only 14. One of the things that used to cheese me off was how the curriculum was set. It wasn’t like you can get now where you can do for example Indonesian or French, we didn’t get a choice, we had to do French. We had to do tech drawing (which I absolutely hated), I wasn’t any bloody good at it, and I couldn’t see the point of it. Because I’d set out with the idea of going to high school to become a journalist, because Ken was a journalist and so was Kevin, and I thought well if they can be journalists so can I. And I actually said to them I need to learn how to type and I need to learn shorthand, ‘well we don’t do them’, I said oh well if you don’t do them, I’m not coming. And when I bowled up at [Ogilvie] the first question they asked me ‘why are you here?’ Well I had a New Town High tie on and a New Town High cap, and I said why what’s the problem, and they said ‘we do not know what to do with you’. And I said I really don’t care because I’m not going back to New Town High, and I became boy number 64 with 600 girls [chuckles]. And I did a number of things at Ogilvie that I refused to do at New Town. I joined the cadets for a start. I wouldn’t join them at New Town, because the bloody under officer was the head prefect and [he] and I didn’t get on. And I ran into him years later up at Tin Can Bay in Queensland on a bloody army exercise and he was a Captain. And he said to the bloke I was having a beer with, who happened to be a Lieutenant, ‘you’re not bloody proud about who you drink with are you’, and I said ‘and you’re still an arsehole’. He just walked away, but I thought in for a penny in for a pound. There’s no rank when you’re in a pub having a beer.

There’s a book up there called The Australian Heist and I’d recommend it to anybody in Australia, it’s about Frank Gardiner the bushranger. Him and seven other guys held up the gold coach from Forbes in New South Wales which was on its way to Bathurst, and they got 37 kilos of gold, they got 3,500 pound in banknotes and he got away with it. They hanged one of them, and he did ten years, and they let him out on the condition that he leaves Australia and never comes back. [chuckles] he went to America. The book starts off – he’s telling his two sons – he’s a bit like me, a bit of a romantic, because the woman that he was living with he’d never married, and he lived with her for 25 years. And he told his two sons – he realised he was dying, and he basically said to them ‘I’m going to come clean and tell you a story, and you’ve probably heard all sorts of stories about me and unfortunately every one of them is true’. And what he did, he gave them a map of where he’d buried his share of the gold. Anyway, well basically he got away with it. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to know what was going to happen, well I thought if they catch them all they’re going to hang them, and they knew that. They’d sat down before they robbed the coach, they sat down and said ‘and don’t tell anybody what you’re up to, don’t spend the money that you get from the gold, hide it and leave it, you’ve got to leave it for years until all the hubbub dies down and people forget about it’. And I thought they’re not going to forget about losing 37 kilos of gold.

I was asked some time ago before I got here would I like to have my time over again and I said no I wouldn’t. And I actually told them here – one of the questions you’ve got to answer is what happens in case something happens to you, and they said ‘do you want to be revived?’ and I said no I don’t. I mean I watched my mother die, and I watched my wife die, and I’ve lost two kids, and if I go, I go, that’s it there’s no coming back. I was at home one day and I said to my partner — had she gone down to get the papers and she said ‘no’, and I said I’ll go and get them how many are there, and she said ‘there should be five of them’. I went to get up off the lawn, and it’s about that far from the lawn up to the path that goes up the front door, and I went hurtling backwards and hit the bloody ground and broke my shoulder. So, they took me to the Royal, and then from the Royal I went to the Roy Fagan Centre over at Lenah Valley, and out of the complete blue one day they said ‘we’ve got a proposition for you’, and I said what’s that, she said ‘there’s two openings that have come up, one’s down at Kingston and one’s at Old Beach’.

My son, Craig, died on the 22nd of February and Betty [my wife] died on the 23rd of November the same year. I think she died of a broken heart. She used to just sit inside and she would just burst into tears and it didn’t matter what I said to her. I mean the most common thing I suppose most people would do would be to say do you want a handkerchief or do you want some tissues and I’ll go and make a cup of coffee. And the last coherent thing she ever said to me was ‘I’m absolutely sick of the lies and the bullshit that we’ve been given, and I think I’d be better off with Craig’. So, between two o’clock in the afternoon and four o’clock the following morning she willed herself not to be here. She just decided she wasn’t going to keep living. Her core body temperature started to drop and the doctor said to me ‘your wife is not responding to anything we do and I don’t think she’s interested in staying with us’ and I said I’m afraid I think you’re right. At the time we had a spare bedroom and she went into the spare room and she sat on the bed like I am that day, and she stayed there for about half an hour and I went looking for her, and she was sitting there literally with her head between her knees. And when I asked her to put her head up she said ‘no’ and she asked me to turn her around so she’d sit on the bed this way and I couldn’t pick her up, and that’s when she said to me – I said to her what’s wrong, and she said ‘I’m just absolutely sick of the lies and the bullshit’. Well, I tried to convince her to come out on the lounge, and I said if you come out on the lounge I’ll make you a cup of coffee and she couldn’t walk. And then she turned around and said ‘I think you better take me to the hospital’, so I said okay how do I get you into the car. And at the time we had a walker, we had a wheelchair and a walking frame, and I tried to get her in the car and she slid out of the bloody chair and sat on the concrete. And I thought well I know I can’t pick [her] up, so the only thing I can do is ring the bloody ambulance and ask them what to do. And they said ‘leave her sitting on the concrete and we’ll come over’ and I said righto. And funny enough it turned out to be two females, one drove the ambulance and the other one was a paramedic, and I said I’ll give you a hand to pick her up and they said ‘no you won’t’. So, they went to the hospital in the ambulance and I said well I’ll have to lock the house up before I come so I’ll go and get changed. And as you can imagine the only good thing that came out of it was the fact that it was summer, and it was warm. So anyway, I drove into the hospital and I had to find out where she was, and they do these tests, they get a thing like a skewer and they rub it down the soles of your feet and it’s got a pointed end on it. And he was saying to her ‘tell me which is the sharp end and which is the blunt end?’ and after about eight goes at it I said to him she’s guessing and he said ‘I know’, because he showed me the pointed end and [ran] it down her foot and she’d say ‘blunt’ and I’d think this is not going the way it’s supposed to. Anyway the upshot of all of that was I left the hospital at two o’clock in the morning, they said ‘we’re going to take her up to a ward’ and I said okay, so I’d assumed incorrectly as it turned out that she was on the way to recovery and it turned out it wasn’t. And I said well I’ll go home, and I said if anything at all happens for god’s sake ring me and I’ll come straight back. And I can still remember I had a bright yellow jumper, like a sweatshirt, and they rang me about half past three I think it was. In the morning. By then we were into Saturday, and said ‘you better come back, we’ve done everything we can’ and I said righto. So, I jumped in the car again back into the Royal, and I walked in the door and the bloody girl said ‘are you Mr. Randall?’, and I said yes, she said ‘I’m sorry to tell you but she passed away 20 minutes ago’. And I said to her without even thinking about it, well why in the bloody hell did you ring me at half past three, you should’ve rung me at half past two. So, then they wanted to know what I wanted to do with her wedding ring and bits and pieces, and I said look the wedding ring can go with her. And I was talking to a friend of mine Monday about things that have happened to me and to the family, and he said ‘I think I know how you feel and I did the block’. I said no you don’t, you haven’t got the faintest bloody idea, I said how could you know what I’ve been through. I mean I’ve briefly told them here what happened, I said you’re not supposed to bury your kids, your kids are supposed to bury you. And for their sake I hope the business about you going to a better place is true, because by gee I’ve had a bloody rough old trot here at various times. But unfortunately, you can only play with the cards you’ve been dealt, and some of those I was dealt particularly early on are a bit hard to take.

Growing up, with eight boys and one girl in the family and the girl came last, we used to get blamed for everything that happened in the neighbourhood. The Reject Shop on Sandy Bay Road, the Sandy Bay Police Station used to be next door to that building, and there used to be Sergeant Webberley, and we would be walking through Sandy Bay minding our own business, and you’d get a kick up the arse and he’d say ‘and that’s for what happened on Friday’. It didn’t matter whether we did anything or not, we used to torment him. We used to get on our bikes and torment the crap out of him, jump on the bike and take off around Russell Crescent, and we’d get around Russell Crescent and went into King Street. And the property that was facing there was Miss Prettyman, and you’d chuck the bike over her fence and then jump over after it and watch him go down the street in the police car looking for us. We used to get into trouble for breaking windows whether we did it or not. We used to make these things out of the hooks on public phones – they used to store them down alongside the creek in Sandy Bay – and we used to go down there and cut them off with a hacksaw. There was two very clearly defined groups of people when I was a kid, you either belonged to the Battery Point gang or you belonged to the Sandy Bay gang, and when I look back on it it’s a wonder we ever got older than 14 or 15. My old man at one time worked with the council, and he used to bring a truck home; it had shovels and all sorts of stuff on it. And we used to borrow the shovels and get down on the beach which is now called Errol Flynn Reserve, which used to be known as Short Beach when I was a kid. And we used to dig these very elaborate forts and then pelted each other with stones [chuckles]. And then the old man would turn up at teatime and say ‘geez that’s a nice job you’ve done at that fort, now fill it in because you can’t leave a bloody big hole in the beach’ [chuckles]. So, we would fill it all in and give him back his shovels and go home and have tea.

I’ve got a stack of photo albums at home, probably about that high, and I don’t think there’s one photograph of me in there with an army uniform. I used to be in the unit which was nicknamed the ‘pony soldiers’, because people would say ‘what unit are you in?’, and you’d say A Squadron 4th/19th Prince of Wales Light Horse Regiment. And they’d say ‘oh’. I was in the Arncliffe Hotel in Sydney one afternoon having a quiet beer, and the barman said ‘the old fella over there in the corner wants to have a talk to you’ and I said yeah righto no problem. So, I walked over and I said what can I do for you, because we used to wear what they call flashers, and that’s what they had on the flashers: 4th/19th Prince of Wales Light Horse. And he said ‘I was in the Light Horse during the war and I don’t reckon you’ve ever bloody been on a horse’, and I said all our horses are made by Rolls-Royce!

I was up at Tin Can Bay, which is about 120 kilometres north of Brisbane, and it’s on the seaside, the main industry in Tin Can Bay is fishing, anyway they used to have these very elaborate exercises we used to go on. Now when we went to Tin Can Bay, I was driving a Land Rover and I was number 318, there were 317 vehicles going to Tin Can Bay, and in total there was about 5,000 of us. Anyway, we had a bloke who used to be in the armoured regiment, and the difference between them and us was they had tanks and we had armoured cars. Anyway, what happened was this bloke – I can’t think of his name, anyway he’d said to us ‘what about we go and capture a tank’. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen a Centurion tank. They weigh 42 tonnes; they’ve got a 12-cylinder motor across the back of them. They used to have an Austin A40 motor as a starter motor. So, anyway there we are, we’re sitting up in Tin Can Bay, it’s as my old man used to say black as a dog’s guts, you couldn’t see your bloody hand in front of you, and he says ‘I’ll show you how to capture one, nobody’s ever captured one’. So being naïve and stupid we said yeah righto, so we find the tank tracks and figure out which way he went. So, in the middle of the bloody night [in the] pitch black dark stupid as all get out, we were following these tank tracks, and he walked straight into the back of the tank and knocked himself out. And we had to wake the guys up and say can you give us the radio so we can get him out [chuckles]. And they said ‘what happened?’ and when we told them they just sat there and laughed. Well, Centurions have a light on them which was infrared so you could sit here quite literally, and at the top of the hill up there if a bloke up there lit a cigarette and he picked him up with the light, it would show up like a bushfire. Anyway, to the best of my knowledge they still haven’t captured a tank on an exercise, and they probably won’t [considering] the fact that it’s a bit hard to bloody do and they don’t do it anymore.