We are all formed as adults from our experiences as a child, but even more – consciously or unconsciously – from our deeper family experiences long, long before.
For each of us the marker poles and the touchstones are different.
One of mine is being a victim of child abuse – rape really, even though the media and the law then and now prefer the more genteel, sanitised description of abuse – at high school when I was a teen. That’s a chapter closed now, but it remains forever unlocked inside, and fucks with my mind.
Another seminal event in my life – even though it occurred half a century before I was born – is the death on the Western Front on Anzac Day 1918 of my Great-Grandfather Jack Sheehan, a man who I never met, but whose slaying by mortar shell had a ripple down effect through my family that reverberates even now. It was murder really, by the English who sent him to die, not by the Germans who killed him.
I have never experienced the suicide of a loved one though, either personally or vicariously through my ancestors.
No woman in my family line has ever walked away from her husband and children and into the sea, and just kept walking until the waves subsumed her, and she was swept away, leaving nothing except her clothes on the beach that she’s stripped off before taking those last fateful steps, a whole lot of heartbreak and pain, and a grieving and bewildered husband and an adolescent child.
The husband that Olga Gladys Thomas (nee Louwenthal) left behind when she waded into these deep dark waters at Dee Why, just 10km south of Bayview, the suburb where Lyn Dawson lived and from where she disappeared 36 years later was a businessman named Hedley Darlington Thomas, aged 42.
The 16-year-old boy that she turned her back on as she took that last, lonely walk across the sand into nothingness was Hedley Robert Thomas, in one those awful ironies at the time a NSW State champion swimmer. He went on to be a war hero, a pilot in the Vietnam war. Later he became a flight instructor, an Order of Australia medallist, and the father of four children of his own.
One of them was the modern day Hedley Thomas, author of the Teacher’s Pet, a story about a woman who walked into the metaphorical sea just up the way from the spot where Gladys Olga once walked into the surf, and disappeared without a trace, forever.
Rivers run deep, but the ocean floor is deeper.
Hedley Robert Thomas took his final flight on March the 14th, 2017.
His son began the award winning Teachers Pet series of podcasts just months after.
Was it a paean of love to those he’d lost, a vicarious exorcism of the ghosts of the author’s own family’s past, haunted by the the pain wrought by water, and the swallowing vortex of the sea?
I don’t know. I don’t know much at all really, other than three things.
One is that the ocean is deep and wide, but life and death are even deeper and wider.
Two is that no-one pays me to pen these stories. I just like doing it, and I need to too, for writing saves me from leaving footprints in the sand like poor Gladys Olga.
The third thing that I know is that I said at the start.
You just couldn’t have made this story up if you tried.
A distinguished, decorated and skilled military pilot, Hedley Robert Thomas passed away at the Gold Coast Private Hospital on March 14, his wife Donna and family by his side. He was 77.
Mr Thomas Snr was farewelled by family and friends at a celebration of his life on the Gold Coast on the weekend following a private cremation.
Mr Thomas, an award-winning journalist and author, told the gathering his father was “a man who was miles wide and miles deep”.