We must have looked an odd threesome marching in silence together towards our respective homes at days end along the dusty, unsealed footpath that ran beside Samford Road from the Ferny Grove railway station. My two next door neighbours and I.
The neighbour to my left, Tony, an ambitious,short statured, suit wearing Qld police detective in his late twenties; me, a thirteen year old catholic schoolboy, looking bedraggled in my Catholic grey shirt untucked from my Catholic grey long pants with my Catholic red-and-white striped tie slung over one shoulder, my sky-blue puma logo-ed school bag slung over the other; and my right-side next door neighbour, Daryl, a stocky, sun-beaten, gruff-voiced, softly spoken, rollie-puffing chain smoker, a family-man and father of four in his mid forties. Despite being softly spoken, when angered Daryl’s voice could shake the foundations of our house; when called in for dinner his kids would bolt like rabbits home. Daryl was a fitter with Qld Railways, his uniform: the iconic Qld Railways cobalt-blue collared short-sleeved shirt and shorts. While Tony and I may have dragged our feet on occasion, Daryl always marched silently apace, his stance erect, a smile on his face. I did wonder why he sported that big smile of his late of an afternoon as he did, although I never thought enough about it to ask him why. I never saw him dishevelled, his shirt always tucked in and neat even after a day that must have been physically exhausting for a labouring man in the harsh Queensland sun. The only sign that he’d had a particularly taxing day: a slight slackening of his walking pace, which was maybe a half-step slower. In his hand Daryl held his work bag, a bag he was never, never without. A brown, well-worn gladstone bag.
In 2008 my parents attended Daryl’s funeral. In one of the eulogies, delivered by his daughter Roslyn and his eldest son Gary, Daryl’s secret, and the reason for the knowing smile on our homeward bound journey was revealed: for years he smuggled what he called, his ‘superannuation’ in that weathered gladstone bag. By ‘superannuation’ Daryl meant the stuff he’d nicked from the railways. No wonder he held on to it tight. The only thing between him and the be-suited short arm of the law was me. In those days superannuation contributions were not compulsory and being a father of four on what must have been a modest income, Daryl could hardly have afforded the extra. As Roslyn and Gary told the tale, Daryl never stole anything he didn’t use himself, he pinched tools and bits and pieces that he had use for and never made any personal financial gain.
Australians like to buck authority a little, we like to break the rules every now and then, we have an inherent sense of fairness and like the underdog to get up and have a win. We want our mates to be successful, not too successful mind, because we know what evils power and money breeds. We do not like boastfulness and arrogance and hold our sense of humour dear.
I don’t think Tony would have minded terribly had he known about it. I don’t think he’d have cared, even if Daryl had fenced some of the gear. Daryl was a good bloke. It would have seemed fair enough.