By Bronwyn MacRitchie
An accident, they said. By his own hand, they said.
My brother Ross was twenty seven years old when he died. He had been working alone on a mine near Hermidale in NSW and I hadn’t seen him for several months.
We are in the basement carpark lift at the Sydney RSL on the the way to his wake when the lift stops. It is stuck between floors with twelve passengers. Except for my sister, everyone else is a stranger to us, but not to my brother. They have travelled from the Central West to attend his funeral. Having shouted, banged and pushed every button, we introduce ourselves and reminisce on Ross’ exploits while waiting for rescue.
He was crazy, inventive and loved to push the boundaries. When our older brother came home to Dubbo on school holidays he and Ross would go down to the shunting yards and roll between the train wheels. Ross was five. He built a rocket when he was eight, climbed up a tall tree and launched it from there. Instead of shooting into outer space, the tree caught fire instead. He tried skiing on the dam with a piece of corrugated tin pulled around by the jeep. Time and again it sank or hit the fence that went through the middle. When he worked in Cobar he built an airconditioner from an aeroplane propellar and inserted it in the wall of his bedroom. It was too powerful to use. Having a pilots licence brought out more mischief. We were travelling from Orange to Mount Hope in a small Cessna when he decided to herd a mob of wild goats. I didn’t find it amusing as he dipped and turned. I held my breath and gripped the seat. Crop dusting had been good practice, he said. In New Guinea he was flying goods to isolated areas. The plane became stranded and he was surrounded by cannibals. He managed to convince them he would not be a tasty meal and offered them a bottle of whisky as a substitute. It became one of his regular runs. He could fix anything mechanical and was fastidious in servicing the aeroplane and car.
The lift begins to move upward. We will be half an hour late but that doesn’t matter because Ross loves a good party. He will be honoured with tales from those who’d encountered his quirky humour and brilliant mind.
But no-one knew him the way I did. The boy who comforted me when my backside hurt from the strap or one night when my nightdress caught fire when he burnt his hands putting out the flames. They didn’t know he punched Johnny Paterson in the face for calling me an stupid idiot or when he took the blame for my wrongdoing and got the strap. They didn’t know he had driven me to the station after a fight with Dad and cried when I left. He wept when our animals died and insisted on a full burial each time. We had small crosses all over the back yard. He was fiercely protective always. He hated being in the city, even for a short time but he did it to spend time with me. They didn’t know his tender heart was bruised many times by a cruel step-mother and manipulative father.
The rope was round his neck, they said.
By Bronwyn MacRitchie