My cousin Dave died while Australia was in lockdown due to COVID-19. Only ten people were allowed to go to the funeral. Here are a few words I put together about Dave.
“Oh, wow … you’re Dave Sheehan’s cousin … !” Those are words I’ve heard a fair few times in my life.
Dave was a couple of years older than me and he was a big part of my life growing up. Dave, and his younger brother Amos, and their mum Marnie, were a big part of the lives of my family, my brothers, Theo and Austin, and our mum and dad, Sheila and Russell.
Dave was a partner and father, a blues guitar player, a cricketer, and an accomplished student of ancient history. I’ve been reading some of the things that have been posted about Dave on-line on social media over the past few days. The words humble, gentle, and talented come up again and again. Dave was all these things and a lot of other things too.
He was also tough, enthusiastic and wholehearted (maybe more wholehearted than anyone else I think I’ve known), curious, fearless, challenging, and he had an incredibly mischievous sense of humour. I’d like to tell you a few stories that remind me of these qualities.
We spent a lot of holiday time together though our childhoods and teenage years: sleepovers, camping holidays, trips to the boxing day test match, and cricket matches played between ourselves that would literally last for days on end.
When Dave was interested in something he would be “into it” to a degree that I don’t think I’ve known in anyone else, be it cricket, music, history. He could be absolutely unrelenting and though his persistence and enthusiasm would become an absolute master in the skills and topics he was interested in. Anyone who knows my dad Russell will tell you that Russ knows a phenomenal amount about cricket, and I’ve known quite a few people to be a bit intimidated when Russ is talking cricket, but not Dave. I remember Dave at age ten or 12 coming with us to the Boxing day test and going toe-to-toe with Russ all day on all sorts of obscure points of cricket history and tactics. I was in awe of Dave’s knowledge, and his confidence.
As a junior cricketer Dave was a truely terrifying fast bowler and an incredibly tough competitor. He would just never take it easy on you. You might bowl at him for a couple of hours, and then when you finally got him out it might only take him two or three balls to get you out. Then you’d have to bowl at him again for most of the rest of the afternoon. At the time I can remember thinking of him as a bit of a tyrant. But I grew in time to admire this quality of his, and it was from Dave that I learned to fight, with every ounce of myself, for the things I want, and not to expect things to be handed to me.
Dave also approached his cricket, and everything else we did together, with humour and imagination. It wouldn’t just be Dave versus Clem in a game of cricket. It might be be Australia versus Pakistan, and you would have to get the other person out ten times before you could have a bat. The games might go on all day, or more than a day. And somehow Dave would be able to imitate the distinctive batting and bowling styles of all the Australian, and Pakistan (and English, and West Indian) cricketers.
I have lots of non-cricketing memories of Dave as well.
I remember visiting Uncle Pete, and Marnie, and Dave in Toolangi (I think Amos and Theo might have been little babies then). Dave had a box of treasure in the bedroom, and in it was the most amazing and exciting thing I’d ever seen: the skin of a snake. Dave told me a terrifying story about the snake coming out of the woodpile and Pete killing it. In my mind I can still see the way Dave would smile as he started to tell you about something unbelievable or horrifying.
Another memory is Dave and Amos coming on a holiday with us to a caravan park in Somers. There was a deep rock-pool at the beach and in it Dave and I found a smallish cream-coloured octopus swimming. Somehow Dave knew what it was: a blue ringed octopus. Dave said that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory needed blue ringed octopus because they were working on developing a anti-venom, and they would pay some extraordinary amount of money to anyone who could catch a blue ring, and bring it to them alive. So, Dave got a plastic beach bucket, the kind kids have to build sand castles, and started working out how to catch it. I can remember being completely terrified, and trying to get him to drop the idea, but Dave was utterly fearless. Our first efforts to scoop up the octopus were unsuccessful, but they seemed to make the octopus angry, because it started to glow with its electric blue rings, and swim faster, and faster, around the rock pool. The octopus glowing, and swimming around and around in the rock pool is the last thing I can remember about that day, but Mum and Dad tell me that the octopus was eventually caught in the bucket, and taken to the serum laboratory, who declined to buy it saying that they preferred to catch their own.
Dave and Amos came with us on trips down to Wilson’s Prom. I remember Theo and Amos going to films at the open air cinema, and then driving Dave and I crazy by quoting lines from some film that Dave and I hadn’t seen (it might have been Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). It was on these trips to the Prom that I first remember Dave’s dedication to learning to play the guitar. There were always lots of good things to do at The Prom but whatever the rest of us were up to: going for a swim, having mud fights in Tidal River, playing beach cricket, Dave would take himself off by himself for two hours each day to practice the guitar. I can remember looking at his fingers with the skin on the tips worn through.
So many other stories: going on a trip to Werribee Mansion and hunting for mushrooms; sneaking into the cattle-yards near our house in Kensington to explore them; playing cricket in the park near Marnie’s house in Bastings Street Northcote every Christmas afternoon.
I remember when I was in year seven, and I think Dave was in year eight, we were catching a bus together home from school and there was a group of middle-aged women who would always sort of push all of the kids out of the way so they could get on the bus first. I can remember Dave standing on the steps of a bus and proceeding to give these women a lecture about feminism. The shear outrageousness and audacity of Dave. I was in awe of him.
As and adult I remember going to see Dave play guitar at the Evelyn Hotel. All of Dave’s music friends seemed impossibly cool to me at the time. I was probably dressed in tracksuit pants and a red Japara rain coat. But after the gig Dave introduced me to his friends and took me back to an after party at a house he was staying at and included me in all their conversations.
When I saw Dave a few weeks ago at Peter Mac he did not look much like his normal self. We talked a bit about his treatment, and how he was feeling, but the conversation kept on slipping into cricketing matters: things he’d only recently got the hang of about how to play off spin bowlers; anecdotes about games he’d played recently with his team. And when he smiled as he talked about cricket he looked exactly like himself.
Dave, I’m going to try my best to live up to your example: tough but full of good humour; full of enthusiasm, and humble, and friendly.
Dave, dear boy, I’m going to miss you. I love you Dave.