Today is the 100th birthday of my late grandfather, the Reverend Ron Hobby. He was a complex man, and since he died in 2006, I’ve spent a long time thinking about him.
Grandad’s parents weren’t married when he was born. A hundred years later, it’s not a big deal, but it was then. He never told his children or grandchildren, but I think he was painfully conscious of it and felt ashamed. I think he felt he had to prove himself to the world. He did this by working relentlessly. He was an Anglican minister and Granny used to tell the story of how the one time he had no engagements in the evening, he checked through the pew sheet to see if there were any meetings he could attend. He ended up heading off to the parish’s Mothers’ Union. Even if the story isn’t literally true, my dad says they didn’t see much of him when they were kids. So many people who have been around WA Anglican circles from the 1950s to the 1990s remember my grandad. He used to say he wasn’t much of a preacher, it was the other parts of ministry he was gifted in. He was energetic, determined, and caring.
Most of the stories about Grandad are too vague or disconnected in my memory. He lived in many places, mainly in Western Australia, and had many phases of life. He trained with the Claremont Football Club colts in the 1930s but gave football up to train for ministry. He worked as a miner to support his mother after his father died. He helped build a shell-brick chapel with his bare hands at Shark Bay. He went back to university in the 1970s and completed a bachelor of social science at WAIT, for which he liked to say he had to pretend to be a Marxist. He was tough. In his late seventies he went on a hike of a week or two by himself in Tasmania. He seemed to me like a pioneer, a connection to the settler days. He told the story of his mother or grandmother walking some great distance from Esperance – was it to Kalgoorlie? He told the story, too, of his great bike ride from Meekathara to somewhere across the desert. He liked anecdotes; I don’t think he was keen on self-reflection or confession.
I lived with my grandparents when I came to Perth to study in 1999. I look back with gratitude that I had a chance to get to know them. We talked a lot about politics and religion as my worldview shifted leftwards. After I moved out, Granny once said that I should come around more often, Grandad came more alive when he was debating me. I asked my uncle later about the debates he’d had with Grandad, but he said he never did. I may have been the only one who dared debate him, my uncle said. Grandad was fragile as well as tough. I wrote something on holy communion once which made him furious and, having inherited his stubbornness and conviction that nothing matters more than truth, I dug my heels in. We fell out again soon after over what occupation I should be doing. I would handle Grandad differently these days.
I had visions of writing a biography-memoir of Grandad in time for his centenary. It would be my way of keeping his memory alive and understanding him better. I’d combine my own memories with historical research. But now he’s one hundred and I haven’t written that book and I don’t see myself doing it anytime soon.
However, his WA-based descendants are gathering for a reunion on Saturday. And my dad, who has been working on family history for years, is putting together what he’s discovered about Grandad’s life for the day. There’ll be twenty-three of his thirty or so great-grandchildren. He only lived long enough to see one great-grandchild; he would be so pleased to see the herd of descendants now growing up. I hope in time my own son, Thomas, who bears Grandad’s surname, will be interested in my stories of him and can feel some sort of connection to him, dead as he is.