TO say I was nervous would be an understatement.
I’d made the decision to do dad’s (Wally Foreman) biography. That was the easy part. Now, I was in the car, on my way to grandad’s house.
Our previous conversations had been sparse and rarely went beyond, “So, did you see the game on the weekend?”
This one wouldn’t be like that. It couldn’t be. It had to be in depth.
I parked the car, staring at the back gate that was usually left ajar when he was expecting visitors. Only, this time, it was locked.
I’d arranged to go over every Monday for as long as it took; it was planned, as dropping in on a 95-year-old – as he was at the time – doesn’t often yield great results.
But the gate was locked.
I walked to the front of the gated community and there he was, shuffling in after having been dropped off from a community group he attended.
That explained the gate. But the butterflies had not settled.
I was careful not to surprise him and deliberately scuffed my shoe on the pavement as I approached.
“Hi grandad,” I said, and he turned.
“Oh, hi, Brett,” he replied. He often called me Brett. That was fine. Brett is my cousin, about the same age.
Put it this way; he was going better than mum, who often calls me Steve, her brother’s name.
The problem was, he didn’t remember that I was coming.
“Yeah, sorry. I was hoping we could talk about dad,” I said.
“Dad? Oh, just come inside.”
I could see he was getting frustrated. Not so much by me, but by his confusion; he didn’t know what was going on.
We entered the house and there was a notepad with a message scrawled in the uniquely flowing letters of my aunty, Jill, on a chair in the doorway: Dad, don’t forget Glen is coming over today. He wants to talk about Wally. Love, Jill.
Grandad picked it up and had no idea what it was about. The knot in my stomach tightened.
This was the first interview for the book that I had organised. In fact, grandad’s age was the major reason I started working on it when I did. Had I left it too late?
It was July, 2012, and cold anywhere that wasn’t in the sun.
Grandad ushered me in and we took a seat on the sofas by the electric heater, which he set ablaze with the tick-tick sound of the ignition spark.
“Now, what did you want to talk about,” he asked.
I sat the dictaphone on top of the heater and told him I was hoping he could talk to me about Wally, his son, and my dad.
Eric Foreman: “It depends how deep you want to go; do you expect me to be able to tell you the family history? Which I can’t.”
Glen Foreman: “Are there memories about dad that you can remember?”
EF: “About your dad?”
EF: “Probably not at this stage. Put it this way, I’m not trying to dodge the issue, but my memory is not the greatest at 95.”
This wasn’t going well at all. Come on, dad, help me out here, I thought.
GF: “What was he like when he was younger, what was dad like?”
EF: “I’m just trying to work out how I got into the family and how it was that I became connected. Was it Wally’s family that took me over? I’m not too sure. I don’t think I was brought up with Wally.”
It took me a while to connect the dots; grandad was talking about his own brother-in-law, my grandma’s twin brother, Wally, whom dad was named after.
That Wally was killed in the airforce during a training accident off the coast of NSW during World War II. He never saw active service.
I’d left it too late.
I stuck around and tried to calm grandad. I didn’t want to leave him in such a flustered state.
I called my aunty on the way home and explained what had happened and said, unfortunately, he probably wasn’t going to be able to contribute anything to the book.
“Just give him one more chance. He’s being silly. Go again next week. I’ll get him ready,” she said.
I was happy to give him as many chances as it took, but I had seen how confused he was. I could see the vague look he had in his eyes. I was concerned there was no unlocking the memories.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
If a week is a long time in football, it was a lifetime for grandad and the following Monday it was like I was speaking to a completely different person.
Suddenly, the man who was confusing Wally – his son – with Wally – his brother-in-law – was telling me the names of his next door neighbours in Kalgoorlie 70 years ago, accurately giving dates and places of incidents.
The first chat went for little more than five minutes. The second week went for close to an hour and a half.
And then, a complete surprise.
GF: “Did you used to listen to him much, on the radio?”
EF: “Oh, yes. I used to listen to him and was able to correct him quite a bit, because I used to do quite a bit for three years as a radio announcer myself.”
GF: “On the radio? You were on the radio?”
EF: “Oh yes, as an announcer. I used to do a bit on Kalgoorlie sports, Night Like Day Sports, as they used to call it.”
I didn’t know what to say. I never knew this. Neither did mum, when I told her later. Or my aunty.
EF: “I used to do that on a Tuesday night and I called them for two or three years and then I did a bit of coaching after I finished, of some of the young kids.
“Then I gave it away, because it got a bit too time consuming.
“A chap called Ernie Hodgkinson, who was in charge of the sports commentary at station 6WF, rang me at the office one day and said, ‘Can you do a session for me?’.
“This was four-o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. How was I supposed to work out something between Thursday and Monday?
“Fortunately, like Wally, I was into every sport that was going on in the Goldfields; I played cricket, I played footy, I did badminton, foot racing and things like that.
“So, my background was good there because, what I didn’t know about it, I had a mate somewhere down the line who I could give a call.
“He (Wally) did used to listen to me, as a matter of fact, and he was probably one of my greatest critics; ‘Geez, dad, you gave him a bit of a bad run, didn’t you’, or, ‘You didn’t praise him enough’.
“He was quite critical of what I did, but it showed he was listening.
“I think that’s where he got his passion for radio from. He saw, if I say so myself, that I didn’t do a bad job of it, that I handled the situation and it can be handled, provided you put preparation into it.
“You don’t just get on the air and read a script, because you’re not worth a two-bob watch if you do that.”
This was 50 minutes into our chat and had come from asking a similar question multiple times, probing for whatever memories grandad had.
To come out with that, it blew me away.
GF: “You said dad was your harshest critic, did you take the chance to give it back to him?”
EF: “Oh yes. Well, I never really criticised him. I more tutored him than being a critic.
“With Wally, it wasn’t hard to hurt his feelings, in other words, he didn’t like criticism very much.
“When I listened to him, I was as proud as punch.
“I always thought he did a far better job than what I did. I had nobody to tutor me, though. There was a script and away you go.
“I knew very well what it was like, being before the public, even thought you couldn’t see them and I knew it was fairly confronting.
“I knew he had to overcome that and, to overcome it, he had to be pretty smooth in what he was saying.
“That was the angle I took (in my advice to him), ‘Don’t jibber about what you’re trying to say, otherwise you’re going to foul it up. Be sure about what you’re trying to say and put it in the finest words you can think of’.
“I used to encourage him that if he had some sort of slant on something and he could make a joke of it, then use it, by all means, and that’s par for the course, to be able to pick a hole in something.”
Looking back, that advice had often come out in dad’s commentary. However, it was often at his own expense.
There was the “Socceroos” incident; “Let’s hope he continues to have sex, success,” dad said, which had former national cricket captain Kim Hughes burst out in laughter. “Well, he’s allowed to do that too, as long as it’s not with the Socceroos!”
Or there was the time he attempted to say, “spiral punt”, and something completely different came out, which forced ABC commentary partner Glenn Mitchell to tear off his headphones and stick his head under the desk, in order to sufficiently mute his hysterical laughter from the audience, which was undoubtedly left stunned.
EF: “He was terribly nervous, the first time he went on, until he became a bit harder and that’s when he started to blossom; when he got the confidence that he could do it.
“There was another mate of ours, Ernie, from 6KG, and he took Wally under his wing and gave him some of the finer points.
“When he got into a tight corner and battling for words, I think he took the nettle by the hand, and I think that made Wally; he was pretty smart that way.
“If he got got cornered, he could wiggle his way through it.”
Suddenly, I was overcome with emotion.
I don’t know why it happened at that point in the conversation, perhaps because I was no longer asking questions from a notepad and had connected with my grandad in a way I never had before.
I got a familiar lump in my throat; the one I occassionaly get when talking about dad. My right leg started jigging up and down and goosebumps took hold as my eyes warmed.
GF: Do you miss him?
EF: “Yes. Very much. As a son, probably more than anything else. Because, well, let’s face it, he was the only boy I ever had.
“I had the two daughters, and they were wonderful, but Wally and I seemed to have a bit of a bond.
“Maybe it was because of broadcasting, because he knew I’d done it, and then he’d taken it on and done a good job. He knew he’d done a good job, because he’d been told.
“I don’t know whether it was a Tuesday, but there was a day he would come over and he rarely missed a week.
“It’s a bit hard to say how much you miss them, but it meant quite a bit to me when Wally passed on.
“It was only through his mother that sort of brought me back to firmer ground, that these things happen and you’ve got to accept them.
“You can’t do a damn thing about them.
“We would talk it over ourselves and that’s what brought me back to Terra Firma, to see that there must have been a reason from it.
“I’ve never found the reason why we lost Wally, because he was such a bright light in that sphere that we lived.”
I cried on the way home in the car and, it’s fair to say, it took me the whole week to recharge emotionally from that talk.
Grandma Norma passed away on October 15, 2003. Almost three years to the day before dad.
Maybe grandad was getting the date’s confused when he said talking to grandma helped him through his son’s death. Or, maybe, he wasn’t.
Maybe he did talk it through with her.
But that wasn’t for me to ask.
He’d already lost more than anyone ever should and given me more than he could ever know.
He deserved to have some things left to himself.
PROGRESS SO FAR
There’s been some fantastic support shown for The Legend From Bruce Rock – titled as such due to Mick Colliss’ poem – and thanks so much for your interest.
The chats with grandad, of which there were about five, were the first interviews I did for the book. Since then, I’ve done about 10.
The plan is to get all of the interviews done, before working out a structure of the book and sitting down to write it. I carry a slip of paper in my wallet with all the names of the interview subjects left to complete.
Whenever I complete one, their name gets scratched off the list.
I just want to publish that fact so that, if I’m ever mugged or lose my wallet, nobody thinks I’m building a hit list.
So far, there’s about 40 names on the list and it continues to grow.
I thank everyone who has given their time so far – grandad, Ken Judge, Kim Hughes, Drew Morphett, Trevor Bickle, Clint Wheeldon, and others – and look forward to getting through the next bunch.