We all meet different people throughout our lives. Some become friends, some don't. Others leave an indelible mark on your memory. These meetings are few and far between, and the memories of them should be treasured forever.
So who was the greatest man I ever met? His name was Rob. I first met him through his son, David in 1964 or 1965. David and I were the same age and were school friends although we have lost contact with each other with the passing of the years.
No one knows how old Rob was, it simply wasn't recorded. Rob was a full-blooded Indigenous Australian. He was that black his skin almost shone a dark blue. At the time I met Rob, he used to fascinate me with stories about "life before the white man came."
Europeans first went to that area in 1894, so for Rob to have a memory of times before that, it would be a fair comment that he was at least in his early teenage years in 1894. So we can estimate his birth to have been around 1880 or thereabouts.
That would have made him somewhere in the vicinity of 80 to 85 years of age when I met him. The fact that he was still fathering children some 13 or 14 years earlier is a feat in itself. I have no idea of how many children Rob had, but there were a lot ranging in ages.
I could sit and listen to Rob for hours. On the rare occasions when I had a night off from my job at the petrol station or occasionally a weekend day off, I would spend a lot of that time with Rob and his son David.
Rob used to take his children into the bush and teach them the traditional ways he knew and grew up with. On a few very rare occasions, I was invited along and the limited knowledge he taught me has stayed with me forever. I know how to look for edible food, how to find my way around without walking around in circles and I learned enough to make me confident enough to say you could drop me almost anywhere in the Australian bush and I would survive.
But that wasn't Rob's greatest legacy.
Even when I met him, he was the exception to the rule. He refused to live on a Reserve, but had a house in town. Even at his age he still worked for the local council as a truck driver.
He had no say in the laws that governed his life at a Federal, State or Local government level but he never let that bother him. He had to ask for permission to spend the money he earned because of another now outdated practice. Briefly any money earned by Indigenous people was placed in a bank account which was controlled by the local "Protector of Aborigines." If those who earned the money wanted to spend it, they had to get permission from the "protector." It was just another thing that Rob never let bother him.
Despite the fact he had no say in what was happening to him, Rob knew things had changed from the days of his own childhood. He accepted those changes without complaint. He was one of the few very rare persons who was able to live in both the Indigenous and European communities and was readily accepted by both.
I remember him once lecturing David about what he should and shouldn't do. His pet hate was alcohol. In his words, I repeat what I heard him tell his children, "Alcohol will be the abomination of the Aboriginal race."
He wasn't an educated man, in fact he probably never went to school, but he had a knowledge many of us would never understand. His command of the English language, (which was after all foreign to him) was exceptional, which proved he certainly wasn't any fool.
He was no Sir Edmund Hillary who scaled Mount Everest, but he scaled a much more complex mountain in his own life.
He didn't build the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but he built a bridge between the black and white communities long before reconciliation was even mentioned.
He was no, Thomas Edison, or Henry Ford, or Albert Einstein. He leaves little to remember him by, and history will probably never record his name, but he was an exceptional man.
He never lost touch with his past ties, either spiritual or cultural, but he also accepted everything as it was and I never once heard him complain. He died in 1989, age unknown, but estimated between 105 and 115 years, a rare feat to reach that age for an Indigenous Australian.
Rob, it was an honour to have met you and known you.
In my mind, he was the greatest man I ever met.
Rob, May you Rest in Peace.