maxcowan

Ian Elliot – A Few Words For An Old Mate

In General Mish-Mash on March 31, 2015 at 1:54 pm

On February 26th one of my oldest friends made a decision to exit this life. We started school together, became friends, followed divergent paths, lost contact for many years and, thankfully, reconnected a few years ago.

His most recent and final life decision challenged and confronted me and many others. His absence leaves a big gap. It raises many deep questions. Sorrow lingers. And all those emotions we face signify the importance of Ian and our reunion.

 

The following words were spoken at the funeral service for Ian, held at the Nepean Rowing Club the banks of the Nepean River.

In 2012,  after years – even decades – of lost contact a few mates from Penrith Public School (Infants, Primary & High) met up at the Bourke Street Bakery in Surry Hills.

Instantly we were transported back in time and place.

We sat there telling stories, listening, interrupting, laughing, – hours passed. It seemed like only minutes.

Our coffees went cold.

It was as if we had never been apart.

Ian was the catalyst for our catching up – over 50 years since we’d started school together, more than 40 years since our last school days and probably more than 30 years since we’d last seen each other.

Here I must thank Merril Worrad who played a big hand in making it happen.

Yes, Ian was the catalyst – he was also much of the chemistry of our regular mini-reunions.

In fact, many times the rest of us – Bill, Paul & me – could hardly get a word in. Ian bounced from story to story. He took us on journeys that were often surprising and always entertaining.

Ian (red cap) with Bill, Paul & Me

Ian (red cap) with Bill, Paul & Me at lunch before a 2014 Tigers v Panthers game at Leichhardt Oval.

 

One moment we’d be re-living life in Mrs Frawley’s 3rd grade classroom and suddenly Ian would be telling us about a scuba diving adventure on the South Coast. Perhaps with a transitionary tale about nude swimming in the Nepean River.

Here we were sitting in Bourke St Surry Hills …

but we were actually living those moments in Penrith in that magic time of wide eyed innocence, when we were mischievous rascals playing brandings or cocky laura at lunchtime, or scoffing Cameron’s long cream buns (with extra cream), or creating the treehouse club in Cameron’s back yard.

Back then our eyes sparkled, our laughter rang loud.

And so it did on every one those days in Surry Hills over the last few years

We were kids together again.

It must have looked a bit like a scene from the movie Cocoon.

Ian often talked fondly about his time living in the garage at my parents place on the river at Emu Heights.

He loved it there and my family loved having him there.

In fact, Ian is a pretty legendary person in our family. Mum was devastated at hearing news of his passing. So were my brothers. Roger – who can hardly recall anything from those times or any of my schoolmates – was saddened. He said, in his understated way: “Oh no. Ian’s a really nice guy. I like him a lot.”

Ian must have made a big impression on him.

The story most repeated in our family is the one where Ian saves my youngest brother Phil from being crushed in the crowd at the gates of the Sydney Showground before the Led Zeppelin concert.

What a great weekend that was.

Even now, whenever I hear Zeppelin – and especially the Immigrant Song – I see Ian, taller than most of us, hoisting my distraught 8 year old brother onto his shoulders and out of harm’s way.

That concert was in 1972 – almost exactly 42 years ago – the date was February 27th.

Of course, some of Ian’s stories came from dark places. They could be heart-breaking in their sadness, infuriating for their injustices, and some contained sickening cruelty.

We found out things that were hidden – and probably unbearable – to the innocent eyes of school-children. Back then, we never knew that Ian had to bear the unbearable. We know now.

By the way – until the last couple of days – I had no inkling that Ian’s given name is Adrian. Adrian Curtis Elliot!! There’s always a surprise where Ian’s concerned.

Ian related his dark tales with passion and animation.

A different type of passion and animation than what he showed when he acted out events like the 5th grade classroom exchange between Bruce Turner and Mr Spence during a folk tune sing-a-along, where Mr Spence’s fly was down and Bruce was trying to let him know.

Or when he imitated me imitating an ape behind Mr Spence’s back … and getting caught.

Ian’s performances were something to behold – I think he should have been in the theatre.

As I said, the dark tales had their own compelling emotion. They were often tragic. But there was not a skerrik of self-pity in the telling. Yes there was sometimes anger, condemnation or frustration but never bitterness nor self-indulgence.

Listening to the way he told these stories I realised just what an amazing person Ian grew to be. How strong he was.

There seemed to be a conspiracy between fate, chance and Ian’s own choices that dealt him so much pain, anguish, cruelty, and punishment.

Yet he seemed to absorb it all, synthesise it and then give it back to the world totally transformed. What he absorbed re-entered the universe as a big heart, a caring nature, and a generous spirit.

Ian made the world better.

His beloved Chezzy was a great example of how Ian was able to transform things – saved from a harsh, uncaring, even cruel, owner; she was then treated with Ian’s care and love and became a loyal and loved friend to him.

I am grateful to have known Ian.

We had talked about a project of getting together with Ian and documenting his stories … I just wish we’d had the time to do that.

His stories help me stay enlivened, inspired, and optimistic. He spirited me back to a magic time.

His passion and animation teaches me that we carry those magic times with us wherever we go – they are always on call.

His generous spirit and caring heart are a lesson to me.

It is said that the universe is made up of stories, not atoms.

While people might pass, their stories can live on.

I hope Ian stories and especially the story of Ian continue to make up this universe for a long time yet.

Thanks Ian

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