“There’s no time to lose I hear her say
You’ve got to catch your dreams before they slip away
Dying all the time,
Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind
Ain’t life unkind?”
(excerpt from Ruby Tuesday – Rolling Stones)
These words would come back to haunt me. They were included in one of the letters my brother Richard (Rick to his friends) sent me from Vietnam where he was entertaining the U.S. troops in 1967.
Richard was only 23 when he took his own life. His life was brief, but full, and although he died long ago he continues to touch many people in different ways.
His life started in England in 1944. Our mother (who was Australian) had left Australia in search of adventure at the age of 21. After living in England for some time and working for the SOE, she volunteered to go to Africa to work as she wanted more excitement. This was during the Second World War whilst buzz bombs were going off all around her in London, but Mum was always independent, and a few buzz bombs weren’t going to deter her from adventure.
She married our father, a dashing Major in the Lancashire Fusiliers in Egypt, and lived for some time in both Egypt and South Africa. They returned to England where Richard was born in the middle of one of London’s fiercest bombing attacks. Two years later I made an appearance, and they decided to leave England and return to Australia to seek a better life.
We spent the first three months in Australia with our aunt and uncle who had a sheep property outside Cooma in the Southern Highlands, near the Snowy Mountains. Later we moved to a property called “The Willows” outside Cooma, and finally to a small house fondly called “The Shack” opposite the cemetery in Cooma. I remember pushing some poor cat around in a pram there with Richard. We didn’t have a proper toilet, but this residence was only temporary whilst Dad bought a block of land to build our house in Cromwell Street, Cooma.
Cooma was a wonderful place to grow up. The summers were hot and the winters so cold we occasionally had quite heavy snowfalls, but we knew nearly everyone and were free to do our own thing most of the time. I owned a horse from the age of 13 and used to spend most days riding for miles with my friends and my dog for company. My parents’ only restriction was that I had to be home for dinner.
When Richard was about 14 or 15 he became very interested in music, and Mum bought him his first guitar. Dad had extended the house after my sister Louise was born, so Richard and I had our bedrooms right at the back which was just as well when his muso friends came to practise.
Mum would prepare snacks, which I would take out on a tray, so I could sneak a glimpse of his cool friends and listen to their music.
I remember him playing at the school dance at Monaro High, and feeling so proud that my big brother was up on the stage singing and playing guitar. Later I would sneak in to the Alpine Hotel with my friends to watch him and his band (the Zodiacs) playing.
His taste in music was incredibly wide-ranging. Our parents had worked for some time as managers of 2XL, the local radio station, and Dad was always bringing home old records (he was a hoarder and could not bear to discard them) so we had every influence from classical to rock. We had heaps of 45s as well as long playing records to listen to. I remember some of Richard’s records – Leadbelly, Miles Davis, Stefan Grapelli, Blind Lemon Jefferson. I was into Peter Paul and Mary (which he used to make jokes about)and later Dylan, and he was into blues and jazz. I used to often sit in his room with him and listen to the music, with him playing along on his guitar. He always had a look of intense concentration on his face whenever he was playing – he was in another world.
I will always remember him as someone who lived life full on. He had lots of friends, loved cars (which he drove like a maniac and sometimes crashed) and always had time to help out someone who was worse off than him. He stood up for me on occasions when I needed help, had a strong sense of justice and was very creative. I remember his crystal set phase, when in his early teens he assembled numerous sets himself with absolutely no help. We had great fun racing our home-made billy carts down the steep road near our house and managed to avoid being killed by cars at the bottom (the advantage of living in the country).
Most of all I will remember him as my brother.
|Richard’s first band in Sydney in 1965|
|The Beaumarks on Hill 724 – Hai Van Pass – Vietnam 1967 – entertaining US troops – Rick has red guitar|
For anyone interested, see Entertaining Vietnam – Mara-Wallis