A Day in the life of the Roadie

 

I’d like to tell you about a memorable day we spent along the Great Ocean Road, about 150 kilometres South-West of Melbourne, overlooking the Southern Ocean. This road is one of Australia’s best known tourism destinations, snaking around the South Western coast of Victoria, known as the "Shipwreck Coast’ because of the many ships lost in these often tempestuous waters when bringing migrants to this new colony and its goldfields during the 19th century. The road takes you sometimes at sea level, sometimes a hundred or more feet above, with many twists and turns, above precipitous cliffs reaching down to the churning waters below. It requires the driver to concentrate on driving rather than watching the spectacular ocean views, whilst white-topped rollers crash on to the rocks and sandy beaches, and splendid eucalyptus trees cover the steep hillsides and often grow right down to the beach. This is a favorite area for weddings, particularly in the warmer weather when outdoor locations are in greatest demand.

On the day in question, - a Saturday in April - we left home at about 10 am. The first ceremony was to be held at a well-known and very highly regarded restaurant at Beacon Point, near Apollo Bay, about 120 kilometres West of where we live on the Bellarine Peninsula. The restaurant is located high up in the hills not far from the coast, and the ocean views stretch almost to Antarctica it seems! The wedding was due to take place at 12 noon, and we aimed to arrive at 11.30 am to ensure that all was in order. So we took the inland route and drove through the beautiful Otway Ranges, through low cloud and often drizzle - which is not unusual in this area. When we emerged from the forest at Beacon Point, the sun was shining brightly and the setting was perfect. It was a very special occasion and the couple and their guests, mostly from Melbourne, were in party mood ready to enjoy a very happy ceremony then to be followed by joyous celebrations in the lovely restaurant.

The ceremony went off well and we departed Beacon Point at about 1pm, for a 45 minute journey East along the Great Ocean Road, to the coastal resort town of Lorne. Anne’s next task was to perform a beach-side funeral at 2.30 pm - a sad event - a service for a 28 year old man who died leaving a young family.

But we hadn’t counted on the drama which then unfolded. Our travel schedule was working out well and we neared Lorne with a comfortable amount of time to prepare for the next ceremony. But as we came around a tight bend, a uniformed man stepped out into the middle of the road holding up a ‘stop’ sign and brought us to a halt. Along the side of the road on the edge of a sheer cliff of perhaps 100 feet, stood a row of vehicles, including police cars and emergency vehicles. A crane truck was the central focus, with a cable dangling down the cliff face trying to recover a car which had gone off the road and over the cliff side about an hour before. The wreck was in an almost inaccessible position on the rocks below, with the body of the driver still inside. It appears that he had become impatient and accelerated to overtake two cars travelling in front of him. In doing so he was unable to control his vehicle at the next sharp bend and went straight over the side to his death! This was human tragedy brought home to us with full impact and startling suddenness. And if ever we needed a lesson in taking care when driving along the Great Ocean Road - this was the ultimate!

The immediate concern was our obligation to the mourners waiting at Lorne, but after a short delay we were allowed through and reached our destination on time, where the Funeral Director awaited Anne’s arrival.

This funeral ceremony was held on the beach because the young man who died had been an outdoor worker with an environmental attachment to the area. The setting was magnificent, a sunny day, glorious blue sky, waves rolling in, and about 150 people attending. But what a sad occasion it was. His brave young widow, who has an 18 month old son, was there – 9 months pregnant. (And we later heard that just a few days after the funeral she had given birth to another baby boy). A brother of the deceased, an amateur actor, delivered a fond and dramatic tribute to his younger sibling. The young man’s mother sang a touching song.

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When the service was finished, the cortege proceeded up the hill to the picturesque Lorne cemetery, almost surrounded by native trees but with an outlook over many miles of ocean. The committal service was performed at the graveside, and we left the family and his friends soon after, sad and grieving over the loss of one so young, but pleased that he had a fitting burial to suitably commemorate his life’s work and environmental interests.

Time enough for us to then pause for a refreshing cup of coffee, before proceeding on to another coastal holiday village – Airey’s Inlet. Our final ceremony for the day was to be a wedding at 4.30 pm on a bluff below the Split Point lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet. This historic lighthouse is a popular tourist destination, the light now being operated automatically and visitors paying a small fee to climb the stairs to take in the views and marvel over the sea-going adventures of the thousands of ships which have dared to pass this way over the years.

About 70 guests gathered in the small public lookout space on the bluff high above the ocean which surrounded us on three sides. The sun still shone brightly, the rollers continued to break on the rocky coastline, but in the late autumn afternoon a brisk southerly was now blowing. The wedding guests wore their best gear ready for the evening festivities to follow, some of the men in jackets and black ties, whilst many of the women wore glamorous bare-shouldered gowns. The bride took advantage of a long- standing tradition by arriving late, in the meantime we all chatted away happily in the hope that the harder we chatted, the less we could feel the cold wind, especially the attractive female guests in their lightly clad state. But hardy souls they all were, they waited stoically for their friend the bride to arrive and then enjoyed the very happy ceremony which followed. And the wedding photos subsequently showed everybody dressed in their finery having a lovely time under bright blue skies, with no sign of the biting wind in the photos!

So by the time we took our leave we were pleased that another special wedding ceremony had been celebrated, but we were also happy to be moving out of the breeze. We headed for home, by way of Geelong, our local provincial city some 40 minutes drive from Airey’s Inlet. By the time we reached Geelong, more than 8 hours since leaving home that morning, we had travelled a circuit of almost 300 kilometres, and performed three ceremonies, all of which were very important to those people who attended either as direct participants or as guests.

Anne by now was feeling the effects of a long day and her considerable input to three involving ceremonies (and no lunch), and as we drove into Geelong she demanded "take me somewhere and buy me a whisky". After more than 20 years together, I recognise this imperative as meaning that her resources of physical and emotional energy are close to exhaustion, so we found an up-market bar, stopped for half an hour and re-charged the human batteries.

As we left the bar, the thought of now driving another 20 minutes to reach home at about 8pm and then to prepare dinner was too much of a challenge, so we took the easy way out and headed for the local Mexican restaurant for a quick meal. The young bar manager – the son of an old friend - welcomed us warmly and found us a complementary drink for starters, whilst we toyed with the menu for some time before placing our meal order.

Then as we relaxed waiting for our food to arrive, the noisy Saturday night hubbub in the restaurant enveloped us. Suddenly I thought I could hear a different noise and said to Anne "Is that the mobile phone ringing in your handbag?" She scrabbled under the table for her bag and produced the offending telephone. It was a local funeral director calling. "Anne, would you be available to conduct a funeral on Tuesday? I’ll give you details."

So Anne produced her notebook and pen and took some notes, and the next day – Sunday - she drove off (this time without her roadie) to interview a local bereaved family and prepare another funeral eulogy. But that’s another story!

I just wanted to tell you about a day in the life of the Celebrant’s Roadie, a special day on which we were privileged to be involved in the rites of passage of many people, in spectacular surroundings, a day which will always stand out in our memories.

Whilst being a roadie has its moments, the demands on the Roadie are small compared to the demands on the Civil Celebrant, who has to take responsibility for such very important events in people’s lives.

But we both get a great kick out of doing what we do, and doing it together!

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Peter Cowden
'The Celebrant’s Roadie'

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