(This post begins with some sad stories but eventually opens out into some pleasant travel and food experiences.)
In a short post late last month, I said that I would be having a quiet period, blog-wise, due to a task I had to perform on behalf of my family of origin. The task comprises various things that need to be done following the death of my mother, whose life ended on 23 January.
Mum had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years and spent the last three years of her life in a nursing home. She was very well cared for and she died gently and painlessly. We should all be so lucky.
For all but her last four years, Mum had a wonderful life and that was the theme of her funeral service, culminating in the song ‘I wanna wash that man right out of my hair’ from the 1958 film version of the musical South Pacific. The movie’s soundtrack was played often in our home as I grew up.
As Maggie and I joined in the farewells to Mum and prepared for life without her, we could never have imagined that there would be two more deaths in our family within the next five weeks.
First, Maggie’s uncle, the last surviving member of Maggie’s parents’ generation and one of life’s gentlemen, lost his life after one bad fall too many. We are close to his two sons and their families and we joined them in celebrating Uncle Tom’s good and full life.
Then, with little warning, came the heart-breaking death of my younger sister, Fi, whose body was overwhelmed by a compounding series of complications triggered by weaknesses in the working of her heart. Yes, there had been danger signs for several years, but she was taking steps to receive some further treatment. Tragically, it was too late and, just five weeks after she had given a eulogy at Mum’s funeral, we lost her.
I am writing this post a few days after Maggie and I returned from attending the funeral for Fi, which was held in Bunbury, a coastal city located about 200km south of Perth, the capital of Western Australia. (Flights between Melbourne and Perth take from 3 to 4 hours, depending on headwinds and tailwinds.) Fi moved to WA in 1984 and, for the last decade, she and her husband, Mick had lived in the smallish rural town of Boyup Brook, deep in Bunbury’s hinterland.
Maggie and I flew to Perth two days before the funeral was to be held, both to give us time to adjust our bodies to the 3-hour time difference and to have an opportunity to spend some time with Mick. From the airport, we drove south in a rental car. Our destination was Bridgetown, not far from Boyup Brook but boasting more and better accommodation options; we had booked a room at the Bridgetown Hotel for two nights.
After a light dinner – we had been sitting for most of the day – we spent a pleasant hour or so, sipping wine at the table provided for us on the hotel’s upstairs verandah. Next morning, we had a very good ‘continental’ breakfast before heading off to take in some of the district’s natural features. Having lived in WA for 30 years myself, I was keen to take Maggie on a scenic drive from Bridgetown to Nannup, returning via the Blackwood River valley and the town of Balingup.
The photos below show: a section of a relatively young forest of Jarrah and Marri – the former is one of the world’s major hardwood species; the Blackwood River, the most significant river in the southern half of WA; some of the sculptures that decorate the main street of Balingup, a small town that has been revived by an influx of artists over the last two decades; and a wine-sipper’s view of the aforementioned hotel-verandah.
Returning to our hotel, we learnt that we wouldn’t be visiting Mick after all. So, we had a light lunch at a local cafe and then, at Maggie’s suggestion, we drove out to Boyup Brook anyway, to eyeball my sister’s home for the first time, albeit from the outside, and to familiarise ourselves with her hometown. As was the case in the morning, this journey was good for our souls; it also gave us some further context for the imminent funeral service.
For dinner, we ate at the hotel again; we had seen evidence that there was some skill in the kitchen. Maggie chose a dish of twice-cooked pork belly, with a fruity jus, al dente pieces of apple and broccolini. For me, it was an opportunity to have some fish without being required to negotiate with Maggie to make room on our domestic menu! On this occasion, it was a generous serve of Barramundi, one of my favourites, accompanied by a medley of Mediterranean vegetables and a dollop of skordalia. Both dishes would have found favour with the legion of food critics based in Melbourne.
I will spare you the details of the following day’s funeral service for my sister, except to say that it was full of love and good humour. I learnt that she was highly respected and that her life in Boyup Brook was a happy one. As you would imagine, all of this was a very good tonic for our depleted spirits.
After the funeral, we drove north to Perth and checked into our motel, located across the road from King’s Park, one of the city’s most important redeeming features. Next day, we spent some quality time with each of two couples who had been among the eleven witnesses to our 2006 wedding ceremony. In one case, it had been more than seven years since we had last been together; the next occasion will be in October, at the famous Bibendum restaurant in London!
So, now we are ready, in mind and spirit, to organise a loving memorial service for Fi, to be held in Melbourne next month.