“Although we were living in Aberdare and it was recommended to go to Cessnock High, I didn’t. I had kind-of developed this want to have friendships, that were longer than a couple of years, that sort-of might be life-long friendships. A lot of the movies and things that we were watching at that time showed these deep-run friendships that lasted all the way through school. So, that became a kind-of ideal I was hoping to live up to and going to Mt. View granted me the ability to start fresh and build new friendships all over again.
And, in that sense, high school was successful.
I developed the strongest relationships with a group of boys out here. At the time they were known as the “Wollombi Boys.” I’m actually married to one of the girls in that group.
I’d been dramatically obsessed with her since year seven but you convince yourself that it’s never going to happen. She was creative, artistic, articulate and very quirky. She spent a lot of time drawing and painting and she was dating another cool guy.
Years later, once we’d started dating, she showed me her book of the boys that she’d liked in high school and, sure as anything, I was front page. There was a photo of me and a big write up.
I was like, ‘Get out of town. I was a skinny guy with dread locks and you didn’t like me in high school.’
Apparently not the case. We’ve been together ten years now.
She was living in Sydney at the time we started dating and one of the first things she said to me was, “I’m not moving back home.”
I have always wondered if that feeling is something that is central to our area more than anywhere else because of all the bad press we get? Is it stronger for us? Because I’ve always felt that. Along with the pride and not really wanting to live anywhere else, I do have this internal feeling that I’ve only ever been here. And that feeling that you’ve got to get out is strong. But it’s good here!
This place gets press that it doesn’t deserve. The elements that people would complain about … they’re everywhere. But the stuff we have to offer isn’t everywhere. So, we’re very lucky in that.
I think community, more than anything, is what kept us here.
The thing I’m proudest of in my life are my kids.
Look, kids are weird thing to be proud of I think because it’s biological. Anybody can have kids. But, I’m proud of what they granted me, which was an opportunity to be the father figure that I never had.
My mother’s a strong woman. A very busy single mum. She was a nurse at Kurri hospital and went on to become the Nurse Under Management. But because of that she wasn’t around as much as she would have hoped to have been. So, my grandparents became a huge part of my upbringing and almost became second parents really.
My grandfather passed away when I was just about to start high school. One night, he rolled over and he grabbed my Nana by the arm. He squeezed her and he said, “I’m going, Fanny.” And then he made a noise and he fell out of bed. And that was it.
I remember the night really clearly. I remember mum going into the room and coming out and saying, “He’s gone mum.” I’ll never forget the reaction Nana had to mum actually coming out and saying he was gone.
Losing him as young as we did was like losing my father twice over. Cause I’d finally felt like I had this male figure to guide me in all of that stuff.
My mum had left my dad early on. My mum had decided the marriage she thought she was working towards wasn’t going to exist and she got my sister and myself out.
My dad at the time had a very strong drinking problem. So, I was lucky that I was at an age where I saw very little of it. My only clear memory of any of that stuff is crawling into bed with my mum and dad of the time and being peed on.
But I’d always had an understanding, or at least a feeling, that that man probably might not have been my dad. I did ask and of course I was told a lot that he was my dad. But I always had a feeling going to Christmas and family reunions with his side of the family that I didn’t quite fit in.
I thought I knew the person who was my dad. There was a family adjacent to us who were raised as kind-of our uncle and aunty. I kind-of knew that there was a connection there so, right before I got married, I ended up doing a DNA test and I ended up being the son of this man.
I initially contacted him through Facebook - who I thought was him anyway.
I said, “Hi. I’m pretty sure you remember having a relationship with my mum. I want to do a DNA test because I think you might be my dad.”
And I got a message back.
“Hi Bro. This isn’t dad. We’ve always known that you were one of us. I’ll give him your contact details.”
I’d actually contacted my brother by mistake and kind-of let all of this out of the bag without realising. So, it became a big whirlwind for about two years. But I was accepted into this family that had also always kind-of had feelings that I was one of them as well. It was a very, very interesting time.
You know, I’ve spent a lifetime thinking about who my grandfather was and who the male role models in my life were; how they went about being a dad and trying to sort of sow all of that together into a concept. What I really learnt when I was granted the opportunity to be a dad was, although all of that can represent the building blocks, you’ve got to make it your own. What type of parent you want to be comes down to the decisions you make minute by minute. It’s not always about what you’re planning towards or that big six-week holiday. It’s about how you react when they drop milk and it goes everywhere. It’s the little things.
As I said, having children - without a doubt, hands down - it’s what I’m most proud of. But will it be my greatest achievement? That’s for them to decide.”