Snapshots of Ted

My dad may have been a truck driver and a laundryman but he ran his service as a business and he kept his Bondi family in creature comforts. Good sheets and pyjamas were de rigueur. When I got to university, Ted as chaplain was a shock not just intellectually, but physically. As we became close friends we slept in the same room several times – in huts, at Newman Society camps, at Araluen, and so on. Ted seemed to have no concern for pyjamas. He dossed down in shorts, shirts, old coats, pants (still with the belt on), T-shirts, whatever was available. He seemed comfortable in whatever was available, and wherever he could lay his head. Later, he snored something fierce.

One of my enduring memories is the period where he slept at the back of the St Vincent’s Church. He was available to the local Aboriginal community 24 hours a day. I worried about him. In the anger and the violence around him, he seemed fearless, accepting and at peace. There always seemed so much broken glass around. I had dreams of him being attacked but he assured me he was OK. His faith in the Aboriginal people, however angry, however drunk, however violent, however hurt, was boundless.

He invited me into that faith many times. I remember him arriving at my house in Annandale one time with a group of Aboriginal people to shoot the breeze. It was an absolute delight. He followed up with a proposal to house a young Aboriginal girl, Angela, down from Alice Springs who needed lodging. She stayed for weeks and enriched our lives.

I could never get over Ted’s strength. A dinner never went by without Ted regaling us of the latest Aboriginal funeral he’d been to. He took every funeral personally. He had that Irish way of connecting. The man or woman who died was one of the such-and-such family, y’know? He made it feel like the family was part of our whole big Australian family, that we were all connected, responsible, involved. How did he suffer through so many funerals?

Shirley Smith was one of Ted’s great sources of strength. Her smiling eyes reflected in his. Ireland was another. When my daughter Thea and I were in Waterford in 2000, a family there told me of Ted’s statement to them that he would die an Irish man. He will, too. He’s told me he comes from just down the way near Thurles in Tipperary from where my people came. I’m trying to find a Kennedy that married a Manning. Just to tap in to that strength, humour, compassion, and faith.

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