As Alan neared the end of his life, it was decided by his family that such a life could not be left to pass unacknowledged. He was an uncle that I had not personally spent very much time around, he was more or less a stranger, but as a sixteen year old high school student with a passion for writing, I was soon to find out all about a truly illustrious life.
Beverley, Alan’s younger sister, and my grandmother and I, travelled to Alan’s house not far from either of us in Caulfield South. At first it was surprising for me that Alan, as a man that had traveled the globe many times over, was still living in the same area that he had grown up in. Each Sunday Beverley and I were to go to Alan’s in the morning and we recorded on his old tape recorder, everything from his first memory of his visits to Mrs. Sturdge, to the cruises he enjoyed with his friend John Porter in his twilight years. From seven tapes we collected this oral record, from the man himself.
He would sit in quite an upright chair, when there were many other more comfortable chairs in his modest lounge, and Beverly and I would place the recorder near to him, and we would ask questions from time to time. But for the most part, Alan had already an idea of what he would tell us, having been a public speaker for various aircraft organizations and corporate dinners, he also knew how to deliver the stories. When it came time to start writing it up, it was more or less already there in its complete form, and often I’ve needed to offer little or no commentary.
Most curiously, he always sat on a bed pillow, which was so flattened, so much smaller than what you would expect, that it nearly seemed to be a different kind of pillow. The pillow slip was worn away in the middle, and its shape confirmed that it was from being sat on, the same way up, in exactly the same way for years and years. I could hardly understand why he hadn’t turned over the pillow, at least then it wouldn’t have been browning on one side and white on the other. It goes without saying, he wasn’t a man who needed luxury to comfort the soul.
As he told us of his stories, he became for us the man he was during his experiences. We could feel and see visibly how profoundly his life’s moments, friendships and successes still affected him. The monologue style of the interviews, meant that there was this immense body of material which just constantly flowed out, and we were there to soak it up, and in part digest some of the emotional force and content that these words carried.
For me, a boy who had hardly known him as a relative, I was feeling this chronological tour of all that this uncle had pursued and overcome in his life. I had never expected, that there would be so much behind that cheerful face at the family Christmas table – this man I’d known but in passing. Each week I was to be introduced to the next part of his life, and having never known even that he was a pilot before we began, I had no way of guessing what would follow.
On and on we went, and then it came time for me to transcribe all that Alan had said, so that we as a family could maintain his story. We also wanted others who never knew him to enjoy and benefit from hearing his story and his message. At that stage it was a race against time, to transcribe his words and produce a first draft so that he could see where the book was heading. He saw the transcripts, and was happy with the start we had made.
Transcribing these seven tapes brought me ever closer to Alan and typing, and re-listening to so much of his story brought up different emotions the second time around. Alan was in one sense a technically brilliant pilot and business man. But for me it was Alan’s philosophy, the way he approached life, and the unflinching audacity that fed its way through so many of his decisions that epitomised Alan, and what kind of a man he was.
The night before Alan passed away, he rang Beverley and Robbie and asked if they could come to see him straight away. When they arrived he asked them if it was okay with them to let go. Alan left us the next day on the 7th of April 2004 with his family present.
At that stage I was to enter my final year of high school and put all my effort into that. Unable to continue the work myself, the transcribed tapes and the vast annals of Alan’s papers and keepsakes went to Sam Furfy. Sam took over the project in my absence for two years. Then returning to the project for the third time, my aim was to expand, going beyond Alan’s tapes, and collecting more of his ideas, talking more and more to people who knew and loved him to give even more clarity to his story and what he gave to people as a friend and associate.
It has been an adventure, and for me, through the process of writing this book, have found a relative who I had never known. I have found out about his life, but through a comparison that I was able to make between the principles that brought him so much happiness and success, and my own, I have learned just as much about myself as I have learned about him.
Alan’s story is a powerful one, his message ‘Nothing’s Impossible’, was elaborated on through every story of his inspired life. He was truly a Great Australian Aviator, but over and above this, he was an exceptional human being.