At the commemoration for Alan‘s life and work, his grand-niece, Rose West, shared family memories of the uncle Alan was…
For my 13th birthday my mother Linda gave me a parcel that contained some of her most treasured possessions. They were the much pored over novels and socialist tomes that her uncle Alan had given her when she was a young woman.
Inside each text I found a touching personal inscription from Alan to my mother, however, strangely, he had addressed her as Tinda instead of Linda. I asked the derivation of this little ritual and my mother became suddenly thoughtful. She was clearly transported to some place that was special and nostalgic for her.
She told me that her uncle Alan had created these very elaborate bedtime stories for her and her sister Tina. But that Alan had swapped the first initial of their names, thus creating the epic of Tinda and Lina.
These stories were far removed from the standard girlhood narratives that my mother generally consumed. Indeed, the stories Alan told were marvellous adventures, in which the heroines Tinda and Lina embarked upon wild quests, they travelled to the outback, or distant foreign lands, they pursued subversive pastimes and risked much to realise their dreams and ambitions.
My mother felt that Alan’s stories had expanded her horizons beyond her two-bedroom workers cottage in 1950s Brisbane. They enabled my mother to imagine living the life of a radical. And when Alan was away travelling, living overseas or interstate, this radical and compelling world was kept alive in his much-treasured letters to my mother and her sister.
The fondness my mother had for Alan largely stems from this early playful and loving connection that he fostered. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that her fondness verged on a kind of hero worship, his visits, mentorship and correspondence deeply valued.
It is unsurprising that my mother grew into a radical woman who spent her entire adult life engaged in social justice work and activism. Her politics and philosophical perspective were profoundly shaped by Alan. She would joke that for such a small family we sure had more than our fair share of ASIO files.
I didn’t actually meet my great uncle Alan until I was 16. This was after the sudden and tragic death of my sister Che. Alan invited my mother, brother and Ito stay with him in his old house in Malvern. I saw firsthand the effect Alan had on my mother, I could see the depth of her regard for him. I also came to realise how challenging it must be at times to be so adored. I wondered whether it felt like a burden at times? Alan was a mentor for my mother, but he was also a human with his own complexities, flaws and layers.
During that early stay I realised, however, that there was another being for whom Alan was almost super human. I’m talking of course of his German Shepard, Mischa. Many of us today have touched on Alan’s love and connection to his dogs. Mischa, Bobby and Billy were really the most fortunate and loved of animals.
I watched many times as Alan’s very gentle and playful side was on show. I recall watching many small children tentatively approach Bobby; and Alan would always sit alongside them and reassure them that Bobby was a friend that they could pet.This would inevitably lead to a long game of fetch, and the child would leave more trusting and Alan was again assured that Bobby was, truly, the best of animals.
Alan and I stayed in contact after that first meeting. When I was studying environmental science, we corresponded about the green movement, academia and ecology. I remember him sending me my first laptop and stash of socialist texts. With these texts, he found fertile ground and I’ve been a rusted-on watermelon ever since.
Although I didn’t meet Alan until I was 16 he had a strong presence throughout my life. This is largely because of the profound adoration and love that my mother had for her uncle Alan. If I could point to one last example of Alan’s legacy in our family it would be the adventure stories that I have told my two daughters over the years.
They are the epic of Lali and Mili. I have told these stories because I want my girls to follow in our family’s tradition of radicalism, I also want them to have a deep and active love for people and place. This is a tradition that Alan fostered and for that I thank him with all my heart. Rest in Peace Uncle Alan. We love you.
These remarks were delivered to the commemoration gathering for Alan held in Melbourne, February 3, 2018