Father’s Day 2023: Memories of my father- Ruth Greening

August 21, 2023

Born before his time, above anything else, my father Keith William Dunham was a gentleman. He was caring, intelligent, clever, artistic and a futurist. From the old school he wore a shirt, tie, trousers and lace up leather shoes to go to the shops.  Only after he retired, he dropped the tie.  

Raised in middle class Melbourne, he was the second eldest of three young boys. His life looked promising but when their father died things changed as did his chances of a higher education. His mother, my gran, was a disciplinarian, as became my father. He taught me the skills of life. To believe in my abilities, be calm and strong in times of adversity, open-minded, non-judgemental and most of all, be honest.

In his early twenties he travelled to Tasmania and worked for Alstergren’s Timber Holdings where he became a director and board member. I remember blackened hands from standing on charred wooden fences from more than one saw mill fire. He worked closely with the government and was particularly focused on selective logging to preserve unique Tasmanian trees. Being a businessman, he wrote regularly to the local newspapers on potential areas for land development or any subject matter he had an opinion on. 

His passion for learning and taking on new opportunities was endless. He built chicken pens to sell eggs and fresh chickens. Every day after school my brother and I would collect the eggs being careful not to break any. Dad taught us to defeather the birds once soaked in hot water and to remove the gizzard’s without breaking the wheat bag in the neck. He was very particular as we were selling them to the butcher. Even now I check the insides of a fresh chicken. 

His love was unconditional and I cannot remember a time he would criticise me, only praise or make suggestions. I was a climber and one day I was walking on the top of the chicken pens corrugated iron roof. Dad didn’t stop me, instead he called out, Maysie, (for he called me by my middle name) make sure you only stand on the studs to avoid falling through. I always took heed and never fell off. Nor did I climb the two glass houses he built to grow hundreds of cymbidium orchids. 

My father was also a talented artist but he chose to paint, sculpture and woodwork only as a hobby. He would say you can’t make money from art and in those days, he was probably right. He changed his mind years later. It didn’t stop him from collecting art books and testing us on the names of each artist. 

I remember when dad went through the sculpturing phase. He would sit on the lawn bare-chested, wearing shorts holding a huge block of stone held between his crossed legs, chipping away with a hammer and chisel. Dad embraced Egyptology, leaving family members treasured castings of Tutankhamun. Intrigued by the gear mechanisms, making grandfather clocks soon followed.

We lived opposite the sea and for years dad would swim regularly in the Bass Strait. He didn’t worry about the sharks or stingrays. Like snakes, dad would say just don’t step on them. Another time he built me a long wooden surfboard and was thrilled to see me ride the small waves even though it doesn’t have a fin. 

Dad liked to keep fit and I attribute my passion for fitness to him. He would often say you must puff every day and if you complained about the cold, he told us to run on the spot. I still continue this practice today. He also taught me to stand on my head to allow the blood flow to the brain. For fun I would stand on his shoulders and he would test my balance as he carefully took a few steps. 

A lover of boxing, he had a speed punching ball set up near the chicken pen and would practice daily. He also taught me to play darts, but he was unbeatable.  

Golf was dad’s life-long sport. He won many trophies and helped the local golf club groom the fir trees. There was an incident when the power saw slipped and cut his upper thigh. It needed stitching but instead he rinsed it clean with water and Dettol, squeezed the sides of the deep wound together and applied multiple Band Aids. Needless to say, he was left with a wide scar.

With our mum always by his side, our practical and caring father lived to 86, but it is never long enough.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.