Olive oil, honey, swimming and naps: Life lessons from the departed

Singing the spirits home: Stories enshrine our memories, and by telling them we honour the departed and call them back to dwell among us again. Photo: Jeremy Hedley
Singing the spirits home: Stories enshrine our memories, and by telling them we honour the departed and call them back to dwell among us again. Photo: Jeremy Hedley

This week we are honoured to present a piece written by Rachelle Cousins of the Undalup Association. It is a eulogy for her recently departed father, but it contains lessons for us all. We are very grateful to Rachelle and her family for graciously allowing us to publish a version here. – Ed.


As I stand here today, I see friends and relatives that have come great distances to say goodbye to our Dad. We are humbled. When I think of how he touched our lives the first word that comes to mind is “admiration”.

Thank you all for coming today to celebrate Brian Smith – the milk man, the dairy farmer, the plumber, the shire councillor, the bottleshop man, the petrol man, the caravan man, the chicken man, the man who swam everyday he could, regardless of the weather. Our Dad, renowned for his afternoon naps, the man who helped make me who I am.

Through all life’s challenges Mum and Dad stuck together and rose to each challenge, and in August last year celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. During his last days, his only concern was for Mum’s wellbeing. His last words were with Mum, a moment that will be cherished forever. Their bond of love shows that belonging and unity keep us stronger, together. 

Dad lived a good life. Providing for his family was a major priority, despite his disabilities. He turned his hand to every challenge, improvising where he could to get the job done. One great memory was when we had Sherwood Lodge and he wanted the pink shed moved. Stuff getting a crane, we will do this when the time is right. One day a group of bikies called into the shop and parked under the trees for a rest. Dad, seizing the opportunity, raced out the back, got some large steel pipes and got us to give him a hand as we laid them alongside the shed. He then went to the bikies and asked them if they could give him a hand. There’s a carton of beer in it if you can just help me out. So out the back they came, dressed in their leathers, and together we moved the shed, rolling it on the pipes to where he wanted it. Job done. 

Together we made tanks, the old fashioned way: dolly, rivets, blocks of wood and soldering irons. Milked and fed cows, fed calves out of buckets, chased sheep, ran them down, held on to them until Dad arrived to tie them up, and that became dinner – lamb for the next 3 months! We learnt how to drive very young, way before we were legal, and before any of us girls were to get our licence, we had a list of tasks we had to master: five-wheel rotation, grease and lube a car, change a tyre, reverse and park a 2- and 4-wheel trailer into the tightest spot ever. He would remove a part from the car and make us go out there and see if we could find why it wouldn’t start. After some time trying to figure it out, which at times seemed impossible, he would point out the problem and say you must look at all the possibilities. He never wanted his daughters to be broken down on the side of the road without being able to know what to do. This was way before mobile phones were around. 

Never double handle anything. Do it right the first time, if not learn from it and try not to do it again – otherwise you didn’t learn the first time. Be nice to everyone: you never know when you will cross paths again. What I learnt from Dad: being independent, a bit stubborn at times, hard work never kills you, just makes you stronger. Accept everyone and give people a second chance. Sugar will rot your teeth (we were raised on honey and Dad still had all his teeth). Olive oil is good for you, and to this day I still have olive oil on my salads, and honey with my lemon juice. Another was swimming in the middle of winter during thunder and lightning. I did it once with him but never again! I did however become really good at reversing trailers, fixing cars, and I feel I’m a pretty good driver. All thanks to our Dad.

Dad never looked for praises, he was never one to boast, he just went on quietly working for the ones he loved the most.

His dreams were seldom spoken, his wants were very few and most of the time his worries went unspoken too.