At the age of ninety, Bluey’s knee was the subject of much medical interest.
Footballers going off the field in agony and facing a full knee reconstruction are a regular feature of sporting news each week. Their loss of income and mobility is certainly significant and it can also mean medical procedures many years later. However, they are young men, nothing like my Dad, and Bluey’s knee is the stuff of legends.
I wrote this story nine years ago, and given his peaceful passing yesterday, on January 16, 2018, a few weeks short of his 100th birthday, it’s a good time to retell it.
Bluey’s knee had just collapsed, while I was away.
Bluey is my Dad, lives with me and I was away overseas when he had a severe fall because the knee had just simply collapsed. I returned from my trip in a wheelchair, to find him on crutches. Within a couple of days, we were off to see his surgeon to confirm the procedures needed the risks of surgery and his admission to hospital. He has robust good heath, the specialist was very optimistic about a good outcome. Dad’s own view was that at ninety he would take the risk of an anaesthetic rather than be immobilised on crutches and in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In his own words, I can’t live the rest of my life with a bung knee.
His early days as a jockey
In the early twenties, my Dad went to school in Midland with Wes Retallack, who was later a well known trainer at the Swan Districts Football Club. During the war, Dad joined the RAAF with his best mate, Jimmy Price of Coodardy Station, near Big Bell but they were soon separated and Bluey was posted to Geraldton. Another identity posted to Geraldton was John Curtin, son of Australia’s Prime Minister and, by good fortune, Wes Retallack. With their wives, the two old friends made a regular foursome around town. Bluey spent some of his time training and riding racehorses, with the consent of his Wing Commander, Wes became Bluey’s racing manager and began sourcing horses to be ridden and trained.
Bluey turned out to be a fair sort of a jockey and had two favourite horses – Maruna and Chipo. These nags were owned in partnership by a Mr. Smith and one “Snuggy” Hall – whose niece, was the wife of Artie Molinari. Sadly, he passed away only a couple of weeks ago. Bluey had a win on Maruna and a second on another horse on the same day at one meeting and he was hoping to ride both Maruna and Chipo on the day of the Geraldton Cup in 1944 .
Fate intervened on April Fool’s Day.
Fate intervened. Wes arranged for Bluey to go to Walkaway to ride a horse called Gold Coast, owned by the wife of the local baker, which was being set for the Geraldton Cup and Wes planned for Bluey to have that ride. On that inauspicious April Fool’s Saturday in 1944, an earlier ride on a different horse led to an accident with the rail and Bluey’s riding days were pretty much over. He broke his leg and damaged his knee. He had a leave pass from the Wing Commander – so that was one problem he didn’t have deal with. Since the Armed Forces take a dim view of servicemen coming to grief in their personal time when the country is at war, Bluey’s knee resulted in a tiny war pension until the day he died.
His surgery was a complete success.
Apart from a knee arthroscopy in the late 60s, Bluey’s knee has held up very well until now. His surgery was a great success and his specialist is amazed at his recovery. After only a few weeks, he no longer needed any crutches or the bathroom aids on loan from the Red Cross. Indeed, he was quick to climb up the ladder to inspect the extensions being made to Warren and Lisa’s home.
The special chair that makes him sit up straight is still very welcome, and he continues to prop up his legs, resting them on a pillow on a dining chair. This is more so that Splinter has somewhere to lie, at full stretch. Which is when he isn’t sitting atop the back of the chair, examining the top of Dad’s head and looking for all the world like Snoopy in Peanuts pretending to be a vulture.
Bluey had a couple of weeks of attending hydro-therapy at the local pool, but his lovely young physiotherapist has discontinued her visits. A well known bike rider in his younger years, Bluey’s knee gets a good workout two or three times a day, on an exercise bike in the breakfast area. Meanwhile, he reminisces about the days of riding from Geraldton to Northampton or Big Bell to Cue.
After ‘riding’ the Tour de France with him almost every night, I am glad to idle away some time on the weekend. And to give Bluey’s knee a rest, as well. Can even the most diligent daughter have too much sport?.
It’s in the genes – this bike riding gig.
Of course, no story about my Dad can be told without referring to our days in Big Bell. And how it was his sporting prowess, in spite of Bluey’s knee, that favoured our family with work at a time when jobs were very hard to find. Family Circle – Part I
In conclusion, my darling Dad, I remember you teaching me to ride a bike when I was only about five. I got the bike as a present. With a Christmas card on the front wheel and a Birthday card (for Boxing Day) on the back. No training wheels.
You sent me off, after I had done some riding with you holding the back of the seat. Up the road I went, Paton Street, I think it was, in Big Bell.
Me, talking to you all the way. I turned and looked and you were far behind, having let the bike go and you sent me on my merry way.
I got off the bike and walked back! You laughed so much, because I didn’t just ride back to you.
Later, I rode in lots of bike races as a kid. There were threats of protests against my wins. You had set my bike up with a much bigger pedal sprocket than standard and that gave me extra leverage.
Clever Dad. I had such short little legs (still do) I needed that extra bit of turning power. Now, Warren and Lisa ride their bikes all over the place. Me? I have packed up my bike riding ways. I am all in favour of shank’s pony, instead.