Golden lads …

This post is dedicated to my friend of fifty years, Dr Paul Brock AM, who died on Good Friday. A celebration of his life took place in the Great Hall at Sydney University on Tuesday afternoon.

How to summarise his life? He was a passionate educator; a passionate cricketer; a passionate advocate for motor neurone research (the “mongrel disease”that invaded his life when he was only 50); a passionate supporter of public education; a passionate and prolific writer; a passionate lover of literature and music, including Chopin; and a passionate family man. Although we met rarely over those fifty years and lived very different lives, he honoured me with his friendship.

He, a young Marist brother, was my best mate at university: we spent endless hours propping up a stanchion outside Fisher Library, talking and arguing about the relative merits of Gerard Manley Hopkins (his honours thesis) and Henry James (mine). He played his guitar at my wedding supper; invited me to give tutorials to his senior English students at St Joseph’s college for the “women’s perspective”. Then he embarked on a life in academia, educational policy, and politics and met his wonderful wife, Jackie. He was a golden lad; a golden man; and now he’s gone.

While Paul’s life is being celebrated in Sydney, I walk a grieving and celebratory path in Park Skaryszewski, an unfamiliar area of parkland across the river. Given his passion for sport, it seems appropriate that the bus stops at the Warsaw Stadium, although I doubt cricket has ever been played there. It also seems appropriate that the park is dedicated to Paderewski, Polish pianist, politician and president, his statue greeting you at the entrance; and that in the grassy areas between trees small groups of young people are reading aloud from scripts in a variety of languages.

I walk slowly and quietly along the main avenues and the slightly muddy by-paths, across bridges, past ponds and lakes, under a frenzy of budding and flowering, contemplating my encounters with Paul and the richness of his life.

The park is billed as a “unique spatio-compositive structure”: how public signage words diminish! It’s a budding, grand-tree, birdsong place where joggers, mothers with prams, old people with a shamble go to enjoy the sun. I encounter squirrels and a pair of very handsome birds: sharp black and white, with a long iridescent greeny-blue tail. Monuments and statues are scattered around: to Poles killed on September 11 in New York; in gratitude to (oddly) the Russian army; to Edward House, a co-architect of Wilson’s 14 Points and a dinner companion of Paderewski (and co-incidentally Henry James); a number of figure-sculptures; and a whitewashed folk shrine.


I find a bench under a flowering plum tree and a budding unknown, walking over a carpet of emerging violets to reach it. I look up at a tangle of branches and blossoms, and across a serenity of water, a far cry from the crowds and eulogies and towering music taking place in the Great Hall on the other side of the world. I read an address Paul gave to literacy consultants in the 1990s, which is full of his rigorous analysis, his wide reading, his passion for truth and education, his admiration for teachers, and his distinctive and colloquial voice. I read the order of service Jackie sent me. It includes the last stanza of a poem by WH Auden, “1st September, 1939”, written when Hitler invaded Poland.

Defenseless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

Paul quoted this in a message to the teaching profession. However, it’s a fitting tribute to his life: he was indeed one of those rare “points of light”.


About morselsandscraps

A retired Australian who spends a lot of time in Warsaw, and blogs as a way of life.
This entry was posted in grieving, parks, photos and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Golden lads …

  1. restlessjo says:

    Here I come, a-shambling! One of your oldies. 🙂 🙂 What a lovely tribute to the man, Meg. When I saw the title I was already thinking ‘I wish Meg would do another 7 of nature’. You do them so well! And here we are, and you have! 🙂 🙂 All in one lovely post.


  2. Rosemary Barnard says:

    A magnificent tribute to Paul, which he would have loved, not for himself, but for those whose lives he touched and changed for the better. The analogy of his life as a cycle of budding and flowering continuing across successive generations has not escaped me.


  3. Tish Farrell says:

    Your heartfelt embrace of a life is very moving. I’m sorry for your loss of a very very good friend. But you rendered him so beautifully in the landscapes of your walk.


  4. Lucid Gypsy says:

    I’m sorry you’ve got germs again honey and more so that you’ve lost an old friend. I like how, beginning with the bridge your photos are reflective as you are on your friendship. Get well quickly 🙂


    • I’m beginning to think Warsaw is bad for my friends. Last year I was away for two funerals: Auntie Beryl, an Aboriginal elder from Bodalla, who was a power in the community and a lovely woman: and Ethel Collett, one of our neighbours in the bush, and the matriarch of three generations still living in Bodalla.


  5. desleyjane says:

    What a beautiful post, it had me tearing up. Such a beautiful tribute to your dear friend and your photos are just lovely throughout. I love the way you describe your walks and this one has that longing melancholy that really tugs at my heart. Best wishes to you Meg, I hope your flu clears up soon. X


  6. pommepal says:

    A very moving and eloquent tribute to a friend who touched your life in so many ways. I love this post both for the photos of the softly unfolding spring and your beautiful descriptions of the world around you.


    • The world around me is stunning. J’s ecstatic, collecting from and naming trees that have only been part of fiction and poetry till now. He’s noticing massive daily developments, pretty much as you do with babies in their early stages.


      • pommepal says:

        What a great pair you make with your talent for words and photography and J’s enthusiasm for discovery. Spring is a quickly regenerating time of the year in your present home. I do rather miss that over here.


  7. pommepal says:

    Sorry to hear you are suffering with the flu again, hope you soon recover.


  8. Heyjude says:

    What a lovely tribute to your dear friend intertwined with an introduction to your European spring. A melancholic stroll, but one which brought me some joy with the blossom and the reflections. Life is so short. We must remember to celebrate every day. And I sincerely hope you banish those flu bugs for good very soon!


  9. bronniedee says:

    Beautiful writing, and a wonderful tribute to a friend.


  10. Jackie Manuel says:

    Dear Meg … this is the most beautiful tribute to our beloved Paul. Thank you so very much. Only you could have created such a deeply moving and symbolically rich evocation of your memories and your grief. We will treasure this, Meg. I will read and re-read this in the days, weeks, months and years ahead, with such gratitude and comfort. Thank you – it means more than I can ever find words to express. With love, Jackie.


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