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Bill&Col2OU

Bill&Col2OU

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Published by Nina Karnikowski

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Published by: Nina Karnikowski on Jul 01, 2012
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07/01/2012

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Starters

INTERVIEWS BY NINA KARNIKOWSKI

side of the garage! And he’s got a very active mind. He bought a computer when he turned 80, he surfs the net with screen-reading software and he’s teaching me now. He just doesn’t stop. Dad and I are closer now than we’ve ever been. Working together has let us spend more meaningful, quality time together than we normally would have at our ages, and that’s helped open us up emotionally. My brother Laurie, who was one year older than me, died of leukaemia when he’d just started high school. That was a terrible time for everybody, but it was only recently that Dad asked how it affected me. Usually, that’s one of the things we can’t talk about, but that day we both opened up and were in tears. It’s good to get those things out. BILL: I grew up in a broken family during the Depression and left school at 13. I wasn’t able to help Colin too much on the educational side, but I encouraged him and his brothers as much as I could and did a little bit of study myself to help them. I used to read Colin’s science books and they really opened my eyes, so, in a way, his education educated me. My eldest son died when he was 14. Even now, I still have the odd weep about that. You never forget, as a parent; it’s the worst thing in life. Col didn’t completely comprehend it because he was only 13 at the time, but it made me cherish him and his younger brother more. About 10 years ago, Col had a blockage in his heart artery; that was very traumatic because I didn’t want to go through another business like that. I’d always been interested in social issues but hadn’t taken an active part in a long while. When Colin started talking about climate change and sending me information, I started to worry about what kind of future I was leaving my grandchildren. I thought, “I’ve got to do something.” A couple of years ago I went with Colin to a climate-change camp and on the final day we marched down to a mine; there was a cordon of police there and we had to march into it. I thought, “In for a penny, in for a pound”, so Colin took my arm and off we went. I really felt one with him then. I didn’t tell him at the time – I probably should have – but I have since because I wanted him to know that I think he’s a wonderful son. There was a time when I thought, “We’re men, we don’t say those sorts of things”, but we’re more open these days. Colin is less confrontational than I am, but I think there might be an explanation for that. My wife has always said to him, “Respect your father, don’t argue with him”, and I think that’s because of my mental breakdown. Just over 30 years ago I was in a psychiatric ward for about six weeks because I couldn’t function. Col was very supportive at that time. I admire Col’s openness. I was moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I’ve been slow to make friends or to approach people. But Colin will bowl up to anyone. I’d love to have been like that. Col’s been wonderful, helping me and the wife out. I’m not able to do things I could before because of my vision and there are so many things that go wrong – I want to put a screw in something but I can’t, so I have to wait till Colin comes over, which he does, three or four times a week. It brings me great comfort to know he’s there and that I can rely on him. I feel proud to have raised a son like that. I put Colin not only as a wonderful son, but as a real mate. I know I could put my life in his hands.

of us

COLIN + BILL RYAN

Until four years ago, Colin Ryan, 62, and his World War II veteran father, Bill, 88, were both enjoying a peaceful retirement. Then they became climate-change activists, which has seen them get arrested four times but has also strengthened their relationship.
COLIN: Dad fought in the New Guinea campaign in World War II; he was wounded in action and saw his comrades die right beside him. His experiences in the war left him with a great sensitivity towards humanitarian issues. He used to take me to the anti-Vietnam marches when President [Lyndon] Johnson was here; we were out there when his motorcade went past, chanting our disapproval. That’s what I got from Dad, that feeling for your fellow man and all the injustices in the world. Dad always taught me to think for myself, to read something in the paper and ask myself, “Is this right?” And if I didn’t see it as that, to do some more research and get a few more opinions. Dad always seemed to stress about everyday issues. Later, I learnt he suffered from warrelated chronic insomnia and migraines, something three lively boys didn’t help. He finally had a nervous breakdown and was put into [Sydney’s] Concord Repatriation Hospital when I was in my late 20s. We went to visit him every day, but he was in a terrible way. Our world fell apart. I was taking photographs of the family in to him and saying, “This is us and we need you.” He survived it but we were at home each night just expecting a phone call to say that he’d gone. I definitely paid a lot more attention to him after that. I’d always been aware of the climate-change issue, but it wasn’t until about four years ago that Dad and I joined a local Climate Action Network. The first action we were involved in was in 2008, when we marched up to our local politician’s office to demand that he speak up on the issue. That was the first time I realised I had to be a bit careful with Dad; he’s legally blind in one eye and I nearly got him run over crossing the road. But he was just glad to be getting out and doing something constructive with his life, after being retired for 28 years. Dad and I have been arrested four times together through our activism. Probably the most traumatic time was in 2009 when we were blockading the rail track and stopping a coal train at Sandgate [near Newcastle in NSW] with Rising Tide [a direct-action climate group]. Dad was dragged away by police. He told me later that the police officer said to him, “I don’t care if you die.” Dad always seems to be the first one to get arrested and I get very emotional seeing him escorted away. I do worry about Dad, always. He can’t see people’s faces, so I’ve got to keep telling him what’s happening, especially if we’re moving in on an action quickly. But he’s well and truly capable and he’s got a lot more energy than me; just last week he was up the ladder painting the

There was a time when I thought, ‘We’re men, we don’t say those sorts of things’, but we’re more open these days.

Taking action: Colin and Bill Ryan (above) are closer now than at any time in their lives thanks to their shared commitment.

10

GoodWeekend MAY 7, 2011

JOHSUA MORRIS

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