Bob McDonald appreciates his classical education

February 3, 2008 at 12:13 am (Fiction) ()

Bob McDonald was perhaps the most famous of the rivercombers at Angoram, and his story could fill the chronicles of any post-war history of the Sepik District. His father was a distinguished South Australian barrister, a King’s Counsel prominent in Adelaide’s legal circles in the twenties and thirties. Bob attended St Peter’s College, an elite independent Church of England school, and left just before his final year. He volunteered for the army at the outbreak of the Second World War. This caused a bit of a stir at home, but his father finally gave permission. Not that he could have done much about it as Bob was eighteen years old, and anyhow he was somewhat proud that Bob had answered the call to arms. 

During the war Bob served with the 6th Division AIF in Greece, Crete, North Africa, Papua and New Guinea. In telling James Ward about his war experiences, he was proud of possessing the Africa Star, a campaign medal. But one of the highlights of his war was a romantic interlude with a Greek woman within sight of the Parthenon.

He told James Ward the story: “We had a bit of leave in Athens and I intended to make the most of it. I was having a few drinks in a café and I saw this girl in the corner giving me the eye and I figured that this was a bit of luck and I gave her a nod and over she comes. I buy her a drink and indicate that I could be very generous. She didn’t have much English but we understood each other. While this was going on a mate of mine, Smithy, a corporal with transport came in, and said that he had the use of a truck for the next couple of hours and he would take me and the girl for a small tour.

“The girl agreed, and off we went. I said to Smithy that he could leave the girl and me on a track that led up to the Parthenon, and we would walk from there. He did this.  By this time it was getting pretty dark, and the girl and I were getting on famously. I indicated that there was a spot near a cluster of trees just down from the Parthenon that was fairly private, where we could cement Greek-Australian relations. I slipped her a pocket full of drachmais and she was happy with this.

“Well, away we went and I can tell you she was worth every penny of it. The best of it was that just before I came to the ‘vinegar stroke’ I could just make out that old Greek ruin and it seemed to give meaning to all those classes at St Peter’s on Classical Greece, this was really the Alpha and when I came, I could think of no better Omega.

“When the 6th Division returned from Africa, the troops were given a short leave prior to being sent to Papua and New Guinea. Bob took his leave in Sydney and while there got married. Before the war ended the marriage was virtually on the rocks. Bob said: “When I came back from New Guinea I found another bull in the paddock.”

Excerpt from Sepik Blu longpela Muruk

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