We held a private memorial service earlier this week for family and old friends. I won’t repeat most of the things I said then, but there is one thing I know Michael would want me to say again on his behalf today. Like Paul, Julienne and I, Michael was born with a great gift - a mother who loved us unconditionally. Michael published a number of books throughout his career, but the dedication in his latest one says it all “I dedicate this book to my mother, Joan, ever-loving and generous, and indefatigable in her intention for her children to have opportunities in life that were not available to her.” The foundations of Michael’s compassion and wisdom have always been clear.
Paul and Julienne have much richer early childhood memories than I do. I was the big sister with my head stuck in a book while they roamed the neighbourhood. Julienne told me a story which typifies the relationship she had with him. When she was about 9, she badly wanted to see the film Mary Poppins and Michael said he would take her. They caught the bus in to town together, and Julie said she was thinking about being a nuisance to him. Mary Poppins would hardly have been his choice. All her concerns evaporated after the film when Michael turned to her with his typical enthusiasm and said “That was a fantastic film! I could see that 9 more times!” Michael always had the knack of knowing exactly the right thing to say. No way was he embarrassed about being with his little sister.
One thing I do remember was the way football saturated our house. There were the matches, the replays, the post-mortems, ad infinitum. Michael, Paul and Dad were right into them. One of the best things about leaving home was not having to listen to the football anymore! Michael and Paul lost their enthusiasm for the game too, but more recently we all started to enjoy it again. Just a few weeks ago the three of us went to the football together and I remember Michael climbing up into the stand with his arms full of hot chips and cold beers for us.
Some of my strongest early memories are from our late teens and early twenties. These were the days of the Vietnam war, and we had vigorous debates around the dining-room table. Dad was a second World War veteran, and had some fairly traditional views. Michael and I were the two oldest, and we were passionately anti-war. Our discussions were sometimes pretty heated. We marched in demonstrations together, and I remember once that Mum came with us. These were emotionally charged occasions, as thousands of people around the country demanded that our politicians bring Australian troops home. Michael and I marched together again just last year, but this was a very different occasion. We were in the Feast Festival parade, celebrating the lives of people of diverse sexualities.
When Michael started working as a Social Worker in Child Psychiatry at the Children’s Hospital he found his niche. It was a wonderful milieu where his talent and imagination were encouraged, and in no time he was moving beyond the traditional Social Work role, developing his ideas about working with children with encopresis, anorexia, night terrors and many other challenges. He loved his work and he was absolutely inspiring in describing it.
Even so, he needed the independence of private practise to be free to let his ideas flourish. A number of people here today first entered the field of Family therapy through training courses with Michael at Oxford House in Unley. Later still he established Dulwich Centre, and his place at the forefront of his field was consolidated. More recently he was very excited about the establishment of the Adelaide Narrative Therapy Centre.
While Michael was very successful professionally, he was always very unassuming. He loved being with his family, and inviting us to his home in summer for lazy afternoons around the pool. He took many of his friends flying, went swimming and cycling with others, and never lost his love of fast cars.
Michael lived his life unstintingly. All of his nephews and nieces adored him. His friends loved being with him, laughing at dreadful jokes. His colleagues and students learnt from him and carry his ideas on. The clients he worked with became connected again to their hope and courage. On Wednesday I told the story of one little boy Michael worked with, and of his sparkling eyes. The thing I value most in my memories of Michael is that all over the world there are thousands of children with sparkling eyes because of his work. While we will miss Michael terribly, he’ll always be part of us.
I would first like to thank everyone for coming to Michael’s memorial service today, I know he would appreciate it very much.
I am going to talk about the times Michael and I spent together as kids and I am going to focus on some of the more light hearted, even riskier aspects and of the fun we had.
As kids, Michael and I spent a lot of time together. We played together with the same group of friends the Smith’s, the Newbound’s, the Walker’s, the Webb’s, the Temple’s and the Michelin’s.
In the early days, we rode our bikes a lot up into the hills, especially Brownhill Creek. We played with go-carts in the back yard, and we played with slingshots, or shanghaies as we called them, and we played with fireworks before they were banned.
We took much delight in placing a three-penny bomb under an empty can of baked beans, to see it fly through the air at great speed. I’m sure Mum must have wondered where all the cans of baked beans and spaghetti had gone.
We would sometimes challenge each other to see who could hold a penny-bomb the longest before it exploded. Yes, we were lucky not to lose a hand or a finger or two. At other times, neighbours’ dogs would bark loudly as penny rockets flew across their back yards.
We took part in slingshot fights, pelting each other with small stones. We managed to break the odd window, but thankfully and luckily didn’t lose an eye.
We built forts in the backyard from old house-bricks and we managed to turn a beautiful sandpit into a swimming pool, much to the consternation of our father.
Michael and I used to climb a pine tree in our backyard and free-fall through the branches, seeing who could grab the lowest branch before actually hitting the ground.
We climbed trees, fences and roofs, breaking the odd paling or roof tile.
We played tennis with wooden racquets and worn out tennis balls at the nearby Hope Ward courts and we surfed the mid coast and south coast. We played Aussie rules for the Mitcham football club where Michael excelled as a speedy wingman.
Michael had an FJ Holden, a second-hand 1948 or 1950 model as his first car and I remember many hair-raising drives through the Adelaide Hills with Michael at the wheel. Anyone who ever wondered why I was never able to quite find the time to fly with Michael was obviously never a passenger in Michael’s FJ as he drove it around Devil’s Elbow on two wheels.
As adults we went our separate ways, Michael eventually into the field of family therapy and I joined the police force. We remained close although personal contact was irregular.
But in the last six months I saw quite a bit of Michael and with sister Sue, we even created a first by going to watch the Crows play in the final of the NAB cup at AAMI football stadium a couple of months ago.
I didn’t know much about Michael’s work, but I knew he was very good at it. I know he jointly developed the theory and practice of narrative therapy. My recent conversations with Michael’s work colleagues have made me realize just how good he was.
Michael achieved so many things in his 59 years and I know he would be honoured by your presence here today as we celebrate his life and work.
Rest in peace Michael.