Bill’s father was an unskilled labourer. Like thousands of his generation he served in WWII, in his case as a Sapper in the 23rd Australian Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers.
When he returned, he got a job in a factory, fathered two sons and went on with his life, never speaking about his war experiences. Nicknamed “Noisy” by his mates, he was a quiet man who led a simple life, never travelling or straying too far from his home base at Coogee. He never bought a house, never owned a car. The beach, the pub, the club and family were his main interests. He got a start on the waterfront in the days before mechanisation, loading and unloading cargo by hand and hoist on the various wharves around Sydney. Casual shift work that he reached by public transport. He was still working in 1974, when an observant family member noticed that he was walking a little out of kilter, unable to stay on a straight line. He was diagnosed with brain tumours and passed away within six weeks. He was 58 years old.
His father’s early death has always irked Bill. He feels that his father was robbed of his time, and he is filthy on the thought that he never had any retirement years – no time to relax and enjoy some freedom with his wife. To get out and live a little, or just potter around doing whatever made him happy.
When Bill entered his fifties, his father’s experience plagued Bill more often. He didn’t want life to cheat him in the way he felt it had his father. We started to plan for the day that he would retire. We were living in an apartment in inner Sydney – extremely handy for work and entertainment – but a utilitarian unit that did not offer much in the way of external ambience. There were more people living in our city block than the population of one of the country towns which I visited regularly for work. It was not the sort of place to sit on the balcony and contemplate life. We kept our eyes open for where we might live when we were no longer busy with work.
One day in 2005, when Bill was fifty-six, I rang an agent about an apartment I had seen advertised in Wollongong, ninety minutes south of Sydney. The agent spoke to me about another complex which had just come on the market, selling off the plan. The demographic was the over-55 market. We hadn’t been thinking about that at all, but the lifestyle amenities sounded interesting, and I thought I would talk it over with Bill that night.
He walked in the door brandishing a newspaper. “Look at this!” He was all excited about a half page ad for a complex at Wollongong. Bingo! We had discovered the same place, on the same day. Serendipity.
Within the month we had exchanged contracts, with the idea that the complex would be completed in four years. In the end, it was completed ahead of time, and we moved in August 2008.
Bill logged off his computer, put down his pen, and picked up a golf club, mere weeks before his fifty-ninth birthday. He’d achieved what his father could not.
Our road to retirement had begun.