Tom was someone who could trace his ancestry back to convict and aboriginal roots. Curly black hair and wild fiery eyes were his trademark. Actually, his most notable feature was a threadbare cricket cap he wore square on his head. He had once played for the Windsor Cricket Club and that cap had never left his head since those days. He was truly a local Gunderman boy, born and bread by the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney, Australia.

His farm was around sixty acres of river-flat land. They said of Tom, he kept his orange orchard too clean. It was one of those perennial debates, to plow or not to plow. They were the days when Australians grew their own oranges for juice. These days its imported juice from Brazil, and so there is no longer an orchard on old Tom's farm.

Tom's temper was renowned. As a young bloke, I shied away from him because he could melt you with a stare at twenty paces, and when he let go! Watch out. I remember he had found an aboriginal axe-head when plowing. It was a prized possession, until his wife painted it and used it to supplement her garden border. Yes, he let go.

Drink was Tom's curse. Many a day he was carried home from the Wiseman's Ferry pub. On this particular day, it was many years ago, a travelling preacher came to town. He had set up shop in the old community hall come-picture-theatre. Tom's wife was fed up with his drinking and so he was dragged off by the ear to take the pledge.

The preacher was a rather unusual evangelist who exerted a powerful influence on the valley during the early 1950's. I could never quite work out whether he was on about Jesus or on about himself. Anyway, his big line was spiritual hypnotism. I fear there are still some people walking around the valley with screwed up minds. Tom's son was hypnotized so he wouldn't leave home and go to the big smoke. From then on he could never settle. That day Tom took the pledge and would never again touch a drop. Mind you, his temper was worse.

I never did know whether Tom knew Jesus. He was one of those blokes who wouldn't tell you anyway. Tough on the outside and gentle inside. His wife went to the Gunderman Methodist church, but I guess Tom would have felt uncomfortable in a church. To my mind, he was one of those fellers who could be best mates with Jesus, but you wouldn't know it. A bit like the apostle Peter, a "rock" with feet of clay.

Indeed, I am reminded of Peter. Here was a man full of contradictions; impulsive, yet tenderhearted; presumptuous, yet timid; self-sacrificing, yet self-serving; brave, yet cowardly. A real man. Such a man was Jesus' friend, possibly his best friend. I hope Tom was too.


[Pumpkin Cottage]