My Favourite Uncle was tall, burly and masculine. He had a laugh that assured you and told jokes at your expense. He loved his sports, liked to drink and loved to biff. He joined the navy at sixteen, was sent to Vietnam before he could buy a beer. But still got drunk when on shore. When he returned home he went to jail for statutory rape. His girlfriend was a year under the legal age and he was a year into being a man, it didn’t matter to the law that they would marry.
Back then men like him went to hard labour prisons. It was tough and turned any remnant of a boy into a man. With blisters on his palms and skin ripped from his knuckles he held his own in a place full of men. He spent four years inside, fighting did not help but even in prison a man has his dignity.
When he left he went to work with my grandpa. Building homes far up North. Not qualified but he learned to be a carpenter. He fought with the unions when they bullied men like him into joining. He worked for himself and did not need them, so they burned down his builds. He bashed a union man after they mugged him outside a pub. The cops charged him, it was a union town so the instigators walked.
I remember coming home from school one day, he was inside of the roof. He yelled “boo” from above, laughing as he scared me. Later that night he strung me up on a door, tickling me as I squirmed. He carried me on his shoulders and told me stories about boxing and warships. He even showed me how to hold the hammer while he worked on our house.
One Christmas when he came down, he had a girlfriend, she was nineteen and he was now in his thirties. Apparently they had already been dating for a few years. She was always nice to me, she wore army jackets and talked to me about my Gi Joes. She collected them too. Even though I was eight she seemed nearly as tall as me, my uncle was six foot five. Two Christmas’s later and she was not there. It turns out the bruises on her body and marks on her face were not from netball but my uncles fingers and fists.
My uncle bought property up North, on the cusp of Aboriginal land. One of my family members once commented that he stank of, “Boong pussy.” At ten I knew what the slur and slang meant, just not why it was a derogatory thing. He grew pigs and weed, selling both to mostly the nearby communities.
My uncle had three older kids to a lady he divorced long before I was born. My older cousins were always nice to me, then one day my uncles eldest son died. The hospital made a mistake when he came in with blood poisoning from his tooth. They gave him too much morphine. My uncle drunk himself with his tears. We went for ice cream after the funeral, I even tackled a man who was being chased by the police. My uncles running behind me, backing me up. It was the only time he hugged me, usually it was a tight handshake.
He started dating again, a girl, she was fourteen, he was over fifty. They had three children, my little cousins. My uncle and his girl drank too much, he even made his own brew. Often he would get sick. When she turned twenty-one, she died of blood poisoning from a bad tooth. He seemed more heartbroken than when his oldest son died. He took it hard. He got sick from drinking too much, his stomach often getting pumped. He had three kids to raise on his own now.
My uncle was their father, the only one they had. He would go for days on benders, love them then beat them when they did not make their bed. Two boys and a little girl. He drank with the local coppers and was mates with the elders, they smoked his weed together. But his lifestyle was rough and hard, my uncle got sick and slowly died.
He would message me often on social media or randomly call. He liked having a nephew who did things in a cage or ring. He liked to chat about sports, catch up on manly things. He loved his footy and liked when his team won. One of his sons plays well. He was buried in the bush, beneath red dirt and a tree. Few attended, just friends and family. A bonfire raged, weed was smoked and many bottles were emptied until the sun of a new day came.
The farm was sold and the boys stayed with the community nearby. My little cousin, she went away, to live with his eldest brother. My uncle didn’t just beat the boys, or even his wives. My uncle really liked younger women, always did. It didn’t matter, daughter or not. Secrets get buried with the dead, his with him. My little cousin, smiles and laughs, is free now. Who knows the darkness for her that still remains.
If reported we get told that it’s all too common in the communities, “abo’s have been doing that to one another for generations.” So goes the depiction. Except he wasn’t and only half of her is. Should that even matter? Apparently it mattered enough for him to go unnoticed and ignored. Man loves girl is not so taboo when it’s black on white in the outback.
Men loved him, he was a real top bloke. The womenfolk, family or not knew a different man. I never saw it, maybe I chose not to. I was too young or interstate. How do you mourn a man who made you laugh and encouraged you but beat and violated those who he apparently loved. Temper and lust is his legacy. Turns out my favourite uncle was just a man, loved by some but feared by the women closest to him.