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Thursday, 23 February 2017

A Curious Time

It’s 20 years today since I arrived in Canberra. That’s by far the longest I’ve ever spent in one place. I left Greymouth when I was 19 and for the next 30 years roamed about the place: Auckland for a few years, Nelson, Sydney for a memorable spell, London, Cork, Dublin until it got too hot, Madrid, Bridgetown, Fremantle for two longish spells, Brisbane (my favourite city), Hervey Bay, Townsville. I can’t say coming to Canberra was by chance, but it wasn’t by design either. Just one of those things. Like a life sentence, but without the opportunity for escape (or parole).
Canberra’s not such a bad place. When I started at The Canberra Times in 1997 it was one of the better newspapers I’d worked on. In the next 15 years it turned into one of the worst: it was a big boy’s toy that little boys started to play with. Inevitably, they broke it. But I made a few good friends there.
Canberra has some great institutions: The War Memorial, the National Library, the National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, Old Parliament House. And yet comfortably the worst National Museum of any country anywhere. Te Papa puts it to shame.
When I came to Canberra, my rugby playing soon ground to a halt. I found no trace of the true spirit of the game here. I started collecting cats and typewriters, helped look out for two wonderful young sons, wrote columns and sports and music history and met some truly interesting women. There’s certainly been some fun times. Typewriter collecting opened up a beautiful new world I'd never dreamt existed, full of fantastic people, many of whom I've actually got to know in person.
I celebrated my 50th alone, my 60th in good company and hope, if I can survive just one more year, to spend my 70th with the most gorgeous grand-daughter imaginable. Seeing Ely Messenger grow up is something for which it’s definitely worth hanging about. But in the past eight years, I’ve lost a brother, a sister-in-law, two brothers-in-law and countless good friends, and have developed a deep sense of my own mortality. This is no country for old men like me.

9 comments:

David Lawrence said...

Ah, we love you Robert.

Nice to know that you are there.

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks David.

Bill M said...

Very adventurous life. I did not know you were over 60 Robert. You've got someone very special in Ely.

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks Bill. I'll take that as a compliment.

Jack Smith said...

Someone once wrote that, as a man ages, he becomes less reflective of the times in which he is currently living, and more reflective of himself. The world changes (as some of Anne Rice's fictional vampires complain, reflecting on the downside of immortality) -- but we do not. And it's tough to watch the things we've loved, or at least gotten used to and taken for granted, fade or crumble away. But take heart -- everyone reaching a certain age experiences that exact same emotion. You are not alone. Advice? Stay true to the "self" within your own head -- all the stuff that's "gone"... is still right there. ;)

shordzi said...

Thumbs up Robert! Great life story - to be continued!

Richard P said...

This is a landmark.

Shame about the paper! It declined too far to deserve you anymore.

You lived in Madrid? Did I know that?

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Jack, Georg and Richard.
Yes, Richard, I think I did mention it. It was in the mid-70s, long after you'd left Madrid.

Stephen Cooper said...

Robert,
If it's of some consolation, you also live and write in another 'country' - that of the internet - and give great pleasure through your writing to those of us in the world who have not met you in person.
I thought of you this morning (before I had even seen the email notification of your blogpost) as BBC Radio 4 Today programme ran a big feature on typeweriters and an artist who collects and works on them (including one with Greek characters which has added a new dimension to her work!)
Had we but world enough and time (and I could afford the ticket to Oz) I'm sure we could talk forever about rugby, cabbages and kings over beers in Canberra. But failing that, know that you live in a bigger country than you think, old man!