Showing posts with label Don Skyvington. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Don Skyvington. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My brother

If Don Skyvington were alive today, he would have turned 70.

Our father Bill Skyvington happened to die at this same date, four days short of his 61st birthday: October 12, 1978. In other words, I see myself today (absurd arithmetic) as ten years older than my father at the time of his death.

The last time I saw Don was in 2006, at the same pleasant place in Brisbane—the Georgina Hostel at 694 Wynnum Road, Morningside (destined to receive indigenous oldtimers)—where Don would finally die of fatigue (brought on by a mysterious affliction that had pursued him for decades) on June 7, 2009.

[Clicking the image won't, unfortunately, remove the telephone post.]

I've always considered this song by John Williamson as a perfect celebration of Don's life:

Today, most of the actors in Don's existence seem to have disappeared, apart from our sisters Anne, Susan and Jill (all residing in NSW) and my cherished friend Bruce Hudson (in the NSW town of Young). And me, of course.

Monday, June 8, 2009


The coloring of this portrait of Don and me is simplistic:

That's because the tints were applied manually by me, when I was about eleven, during a period when I liked to fiddle around with photos.

During our childhood at Waterview, South Grafton, Don and I used to listen to country music performed by a fellow named Buddy Williams, who had got around to incorporating a variant of Swiss yodeling into his songs. Today, these songs strike us as rather corny, but we loved to listen to them constantly on our archaic gramophone with a wind-up spring. I've found a few YouTube samples of Buddy Williams songs that Don himself used to imitate, accompanied by his steel-stringed guitar.

Where the White-Faced Cattle Roam

Music in My Pony's Feet

Riding Home at Sundown

Here's an old photo of the cattle saleyards at South Grafton where Don once worked as an auctioneer:

On a nearby corner, in Ryan Street, there was a well-known pub: the Royal Hotel. Bruce Hudson reminded me that, one day, as a prank, a stockman had ridden a horse up the staircase, onto the first floor, and the publican found it impossible to persuade the animal to go back down again. (I can imagine my donkey in such a situation.) Finally, the only way of getting the horse back to ground level consisted of blindfolding it and dragging the poor animal down the stairs. As for the rumor that the stockman in question might have been my brother, I have no idea whatsoever...

I remember Don talking to me about the harsh cattle track along the Diamantina River, north of Birdsville, as if it were an awesome roadway to Paradise. This magnificent ballad by John Williamson is a subtle musical tribute to my brother's memory:

In the following photo showing Don at Wave Hill, the fellow in the white shirt is his friend Sabu Singh, born of Chinese and Aboriginal parents, who went on to become the manager of a large cattle station:

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

In the next photo, in black-and-white, Don is standing alongside a desolate Outback homestead:

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

In the following photo, Don is standing alongside his horse:

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

Finally, here's a photo of Don and our mother at South Grafton:

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Donald Charles Skyvington [1941-2009]

Click the above image to obtain the original scanned photo.

After several decades of cerebral problems, difficult to elucidate and apparently impossible to treat, my brother Don died peacefully this evening in Brisbane, Queensland. During our childhood in South Grafton, New South Wales, Don was outstanding in many rural domains. From an early age, he was an exceptional bush horseman. Above all, he had an understanding of beef cattle that enabled him to be employed, when he was still a youth, as a professional auctioneer in the beef-cattle saleyards of South Grafton. It was there, unfortunately, when Don was still a child, that a thoughtless individual had slapped my brother's pony on the rump, causing it slip over and fall on Don's head, no doubt provoking internal lesions that were responsible for problems that reappeared constantly throughout his life. Much later, Don worked as a stockman with Aboriginal drovers on an Outback cattle station, in particularly rough conditions. In a profound Australian sense, Don was an eternal man of the bush, of a rare pioneering kind, like our father. In happier times, when I could communicate with him easily, we got along extremely well together. Among other things, shortly before I left Australia, we shared a flat in Sydney for a short time, and Don taught me how to play the cowboy guitar. A nurse who has been caring for my brother over the years told me recently that Don was very happy to tell people that his brother Billy had a family in France. Meanwhile, Don received regular visits from our three sisters: Anne (living in Coogee, whose evocation of our brother can be found here), Susan (Mullumbimby) and Jill (Woolgoolga).

For the rain never falls on the dusty Diamantina
And a drover finds it hard to change his mind
For the years have surely gone
Like the drays from Old Cork Station
And I won't be back till the drovin's done
John Williamson

Several old photos of our brother can be found on this brief web page.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Aussie cowboys

In the space of a few days, Australian media have displayed images of two local cowboys. Heath Ledger, co-star of The Secret of Brokeback Mountain, was found dead in Manhattan last Tuesday. Today, in a more joyous context, country singer Lee Kernaghan was proclaimed Australian of the Year. And here's an old photo of an authentic Aussie cowboy:

This is my brother Don Skyvington (a year younger than me) at Wave Hill cattle station in the outback, in the company of Aboriginal stockmen. This photo was taken in the early '60s. Don has had major health problems for most of his adult life, possibly as a consequence of hepatitis that he picked up out in the bush. He now resides in Brisbane (Queensland) in a fine and friendly home with disabled Aboriginals, which I visited when I was out in Australia in 2006.