Time and Tide wait for no man.
Alan was a big man. An undisputable fact.
Everyone who knew him would know that, but not everyone knew the breadth of his ‘big-ness’.
In Alan’s case he was big in all dimensions. Mostly we’ll remember him for his generosity of spirit. Always a welcoming smile and great company. His humour and lively and informed conversationalist qualities confirming his big heart. He was great company, and together with Teresa they were always welcoming hosts. You could always be guaranteed good food, wine and conversation at their place.
A standard obituary might run like: “Alan was a pom, married a Pole, had a kid, lived in the bush, and lived happily ever after. The end!”
But this is too superficial to do justice to the man.
The real story is more like this:
Alan was born in England in 1947 and moved to Australia with his parents in 1956.
During his student days Alan was a well-rounded champion athlete; holding junior State records in breaststroke and playing soccer for George Cross juniors. As an adult Alan was a more than a competent basketballer and later in life an agile and beguiling table tennis player.
Alan went to Merrylands High School in Melbourne’s North (a year ahead of Co-op Members Neil Harvey and Norm Parris) and transferred to nearby Fawkner High School where he met Teresa. (Fawkner High School just happened to be the same school that Shayne Parris attended). Not many degrees of separation there!
(Note: None of these connections with other Co-op members were relevant to Alan and Teresa coming to the Co-op; those dots were only joined after they were members.)
After High School Alan and Teresa pursued different directions in their studies, both becoming teachers.
Alan went to Melbourne University but, realising his passion for teaching, transferred to Coburg Teachers College. And so begun a long and distinguished career nurturing young talent. Alan was central to the development of the maths curriculum for primary schools and wrote a number of influential texts books for young maths students.
As his career (and digital technology) developed, he was seconded back to Melbourne University to develop programs for teaching maths teachers to adapt to the arrival of computers into classrooms. Later in his career his love of the classroom took him back to the coalface where he established information technology programs, assisting students and teachers adjust to the new technologies for maths. In the early 2000’s at Mill Park Heights primary school Alan developed a program for gifted and talented kids helping them stream into computer science. Alan was a champion of STEM before STEM was an acronym.
Clearly a high achiever and a man ahead of his time.
And this story is getting ahead of its time too; we need to re-wind to the 1960’s where, although pursuing different tertiary studies, Alan and Teresa maintained that spark of romance that started in High School.
Complementing Alan’s eventful migrant background, Teresa’s is even more intriguing. Teresa was born in 1946 to Polish parents in Germany, in a post-war forced labour camp. The family eventually, and after much hardship, migrating to Australia in 1949.
The full story of Alan can only be complete with Teresa (and later Kristen). The full dimension of the man is the story of Alan and his family. Alan and Teresa were married in 1970.
They were planning on building in Wattle Glen, using Alistair Knox, (Alistair was one of the original members of the Co-op), as their architect. In developing the brief Alistair quickly assessed their qualities and aspirations and declared that they would not be happy in the ‘burbs’ and recommended that they consider a left of field option, The Round the Bend Conservation Co-operative. They did and were immediately captivated by the idea, and with much encouragement and support from Tim and Raya Ealey became members in 1975, buying the O’Conner’s share.
Together they had a vision to create something that would exemplify the philosophy of residential conservation; building a house with minimum impact.
Today their house is still the benchmark for creative and sensitive design, blending into the environment with minimum footprint and impact.
Alan and Teresa sought out the expertise that could achieve their dream and engaged young Architects with a track record for fresh design ideas and the sensitive to design their house in a bushland conservation setting. The result was a dramatic departure from the prevailing Co-op ‘owner builder- second hand building material’ genre. Their design introduced new domestic architecture to achieve their desire to nestle into the landscape; their dramatic waterproof retaining wall forming an internal wall of the house is an example.
(Back to 1975 when their ‘soon to be’ house concept was born, so too was their daughter Kristen and by the time the house was complete, Kristen was 8.)
Alan had an eye for detail and kept the builders ‘honest’; this attention to detail ensured that the build took a bit longer, five years in all.
Kristen, who was born in 1975, was involved in the process, and was a stern supervisor. And in 1983 the family moved in, much to the delight of the freewheeling Kristen. Ever the thoughtful and devoted father, Alan (and Teresa) became major players in the establishment of the Montessori School in Montmorency, it being the preferred option for achieving the education and developmental aspirations they had for their daughter.
As Kristen grew, she followed in her father’s footsteps (an inept metaphor) and developed into a champion water polo player, representing the State at a junior level.
All made possible by Alan dutifully ferrying Kristen to training in the State Swim Centre in the City, leaving home at 4am, 4 days a week for 4 years.
That didn’t diminish Alan’s contribution to the Co-op. Always a willing and tireless worker he pulled his weight and helped achieve some of the early conservation wins, including eliminating boneseed from the Co-op land. (Note: Boneseed is an invasive weed introduced from South Africa and still dominates the You Yang’s Regional Park despite the efforts of Parks Victoria. Boneseed is still ‘at large’ in the Bend of Islands and neighbouring land.)
[pic – boneseed]
Alan was also the favourite partner on the other side of a motorised posthole digger. He was the ballast while his partner invariably was swung off their feet.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s Alan was a Director for 6 years and Chair for two. During this period who could forget Alan and Teresa’s market day soirees. Friends congregated on their expansive elevated deck and enjoyed Alan’s renowned bonhomie, drinking his fine wines, all sustained by Teresa’s amazing feasts.
Alan embodied the Co-op community. At home with the family, Alan was justifiably a happy and proud man.
Alan and Teresa both retired in the early 2000’s.
Shortly after retirement Alan was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma and given a year to live. Alan proved bigger than the diagnosis and stared down the death sentence for nearly 20 years. During this period Alan maintained his affability and continued to be the great host and friend to all. He still enjoyed the company of others and always brought good humour to a function.
In 2015 great joy was brought to his life with the birth of grandson Calan in 2015 followed by granddaughter Tia in 2017. But in the latter years his health deteriorated further, ultimately requiring full-time care in a Nursing Home in Bayswater, near to where Kristen was living.
He was dealt a further blow by Covid, virtually ruling out any visits from friends, and often, family. True to form however, in the occasional ZOOM catch-ups Alan’s wicked sense of humour shone through, referring to his new ‘home’ as “God’s waiting room for the perpetually bewildered” and would regale us with anecdotes about the slightly absent-minded residents.
Alan’s last weeks were spent at the Olivia Newton-John Palliative Care Centre where he received excellent care. Teresa and Kristen maintained a 24-hour vigil, Kristen negotiating a bed in his room so that she could be with him continuously monitoring his care and allowing Teresa respite.
In his final days Alan was comfortable and without pain and died peacefully in the early hours of Tuesday 7 September, 2021.
He’s left a big hole on our lives.