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My Father Chris Kempster

Meghan Kempster (April 2004)

Ross and ChrisMy brother Ross and I consider that our childhood was unusual and we were blessed for it. My father's imagination and playful character ensured that our yard was always filled with tractor tyre tubes to jump on, tree houses and flying foxes to swing on, huge fishing nets salvaged from the wharves to climb up and firemans poles and pulleys were always erected where there was a second storey to enable as much silly Tarzan like behaviour as possible. I'm sure we were visited and envied by every kid in the street. We learnt to love the outdoors, plain silly fun and that good times do not require fancy possessions and lots of money.

Wildlife was also a feature of growing up. There was always a multitude of pets but the most memorable was the territorial "Jabberwocky" style rabbit that bit the skin from our heals as we went to the outdoor loo at night. Another was spiders - my father loved and admired the natural world. We would watch excitedly as he lured large hairy spiders from their holes and were taught to respect and admire rather than fear and hate. Moth and butterfly cocoons and emerging cicadas were always hung around the house and so that their hatching could be witnessed. As an adult I often enjoyed a walk around the yard with my father to admire spiders, insects or the Tawny Frog Mouthed Owls (the "Wowls" as he called them) that nested in his tree. His passion for the world and understanding it was wondrous and as wide eyed as a kids, and has infected us all.

A short drive down the street was another adventure. There was no order to "be quiet and sit still". The louder the laughing and singing, the better. A few favourites songs he taught us were about "The hole in the Elephants bottom" or the "ooo me doodle bird" in the "wild west show". He also thrilled us by driving round and around in circles down back alleys causing us to roll around on top of each other in the back of the car. But I'm not sure that the old ladies or innocent bystanders on the street were as amused as we were as he roared his infamous Tarzan call at them from the car, or a simple "ullow" in the voice of a scrawny cockey.

To the very end, he never lost his exceptional sense of humour - thank goodness. He nick named his oxygen kit on a trolley his "dog" and he would take it for walks every day for exercise around the hospital corridors. Whilst hunched and struggling he would sometimes make a dash around the corner as if to race you - just to get a laugh if he could. Then he'd make a cheeky suggestion about heading for the bar and ask the nurses for a glass of stout. Another friend recounts how his shoes were squeaking as he walked and my father looked up at him and said "you've got stones in your hub caps mate".

Life with my father was always rich with colourful, wonderful people and the music and love that they brought. Some of my earliest and happiest memories are of bush dances, street parties and multicultural gatherings such as the inaugural Australia Day multicultural celebrations on the Sydney Opera House steps. I remember many times feeling so warm and safe as I was lullabied to sleep in my mothers arms in a room full of beautiful harmonising voices. My father treasured this musical world and he loved his friends so much he had to show them off to me as if I was the parent and he was the kid. I remember when he first moved to the Blue Mountains how excited he was to introduce me to his new friends. Compassion and caring about people, justice and equity were certainly some of his strengths. I will always be thankful to him for introducing me to so many wonderful people, for they have become much like my extended family.

Meghan and ChrisIt is heartbreaking to know just how plagued my father was by debilitating asthma all of his life. Yet he was never self-pitying and I am certain that many of his strengths were also his coping mechanisms. Such as, his sense of humour, imagination, sensitivity and appreciation of every thing around him. Somehow, he managed to have an interesting thought or anecdote about almost everything he saw. And he was also optimistic and had an ability to make the most of things. For example, when I was a little girl at bush dances I would plead with him for another polka around the dance floor, not really aware of how uncomfortable his wheezing was. He nearly always managed to smile, straighten himself out and say "oh oo-right" and then bounce and wheeze with great enthusiasm. Another friend recounts how they went looking for a water hole to cool down in on a hot summers day in western NSW. The best thing on offer was a muddy water hole visited by the local cattle. My father was the first to jump with a great Tarzan call. A playful mud bath ensued and needless to say a lot of music and stout as well.

I have not met many people with the energy and passion of my father or that are as alive as he was. It is unfair that his life has ended when he clearly had so much to give, so many more songs to sing and so much more life to live. But he was a realist and regularly told me that life wasnít fair, but insisted that if you couldnít change it then you just had to get on with it. So, as much as we miss him, I know that he would want nothing more than for us to reminisce with a story, rejoice with a stout or 10 and to get on with singing the next song.

australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory