I did the first draft of “Ballina Boy; a child’s odyssey through the 1950s” in 2002, the year before my ailing father died and I started the last, from scratch, one night in October, 2009. It took me six months. However, on my final draft, the story took on a life of its own; a steed stabled by day as I worked and galloping by night. I was the nocturnal coach driver with taut reins, hanging on while memories so long ago appeared at every turn, and as my father whispered in my ear.
However, this was still my story; my Dreaming with this Olympian Zeus presiding over the lowlands of my childhood with his wife, Hera, incarnate as my mother, Lucy of the Hearth, who held together, house, surgery and Mt Olympus despite the thunderbolts of adversity. It is not easy to unearth the visions and influences of childhood which for me started at my grandmother’s funeral when I was in utero and concluded on my ninth birthday on the equator, somewhere in the Indian Ocean scored by the foaming wake of the SS Arcadia and my father‘s dreams. Childhood is covered by an overburden of adult perceptions set like dried lava and disguised by the vegetation of conformity. The magma of childhood is still unset with its wobbly questioning and a refreshing venting of expressions of awe, be it at the feigned spikes of a wily caterpillar or the pictographic sunset of sheep-clouds. To complicate matters, the growth rings of childhood reveal increasing sophistication; an ontological rerun of the ascent of man. As the child grows, the horizon becomes more distant.
The backdrop of my childhood was the surgery of a country general practice dominated by my father, Lucius who was “different” from any other man I knew partially due to his first class honours in Classics and years teaching at two grammar schools before he entered medicine in 1944. He had won the Lilley Medal as Dux at the Brisbane Grammar School in 1937. His father, Kennedy Allen, in turn was a man of letters, a polymath and Classicist, who had won the gold medal at the King’s Inn in Dublin having been Dux at Rockhampton Grammar like his younger brother. He was a courtly man, a respected Brisbane barrister, later judge and was made an Honorary Doctor of Law by the University of Queensland. My father too was a gifted linguist, a master not only of Ancient Greek, Latin, French, Philosophy and Metaphysics but later of Spanish and Italian.
His intellect cast a long shadow over me as well as his herculean stamina, his at times exasperating dedication to patients and his curiosity about all things intellectual but not extended to things mechanical like lawn mowers. He was an intellectual filter-feeder siphoning up ideas and facts but also giving out like Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey as I discovered then he later taught me Senior French as an extra subject at BGS and taught his brother Junior Algebra and in retirement French at the University of the Third Age. However, he was intensely private with even my mother excluded from his “Dales of Arcady” and never once did I see him shed his crusty carapace softened by the hormones of prose or verse. It was about this complex man I wrote; the doctor who kept his MBBS degree rolled up in his bottom drawer with his self-doubts, and who always had a book of Greek or Latin on his desk in case a patient didn’t come. His enemy was time and death was a realm where it was too dark to read. Among his legacy were years of dedicated medical practice. His name plate at the garden cemetery just reads, “Dr Lucius Allen, Doctor and Scholar.”
This book is about my childhood on the once bustling Richmond River, about medicine but also about him. Its genesis has many facets one of which shows that the common saying, “Just a GP” can be so trite. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did telling this story.