I’ve spent a bit of time at Harley Park this week. Certainly not by choice. I’ve come to the Gold Coast to send my father on his way, after he passed away last week.
So why Harley Park? It’s not really the epicentre of my Gold Coast upbringing, but it is a fairly significant part of it. When you live on the Gold Coast, you spend a lot of time in, or on, the water. And we spent a lot of time at Harley Park. It’s protected from the rest of the Broadwater by a man-made sandbank, but it provides a significant length of water that is deep enough to allow serious swimmers to do laps as though they are in an Olympic Pool. As small kids, we went there as an option to the open ocean beaches.
In the last 10 years or so, Dad loved to swim at Harley Park. He would go there regularly and as a result, he was in great condition for a bloke in his seventies.
I don’t swim. My brother Ian does, so I relied on him to do the commemorative laps of Harley Park for both us. Yeah, that’s right, I don’t swim. But I was supposed to be able to swim 50 metres (probably yards actually) back as a 12 year old, so I could attend the scout jamboree at Leppington. Without doing the research, I’m guessing it was around 1970. For weeks before, Dad would take me down to the Olympic Pool, not all that far from Harley Park, to teach me to swim. How frustrating it must have been for him, such a keen swimmer, to see his oldest son not managing to get it right.
And how shattering it must have been for him to sign off on the form to confirm that I could swim the distance, even though I couldn’t. How embarrassing it must have been for him as a scout leader going to that same jamboree.
He lied! He broke the rules! As I reflected on my Dad’s lifetime, looking out over the Broadwater at Harley Park, that was the only time I could remember when he didn’t do the right thing. He never wavered. He was as straight as a die. Things had to be done properly. And he called a spade a spade. That probably explains a few things for people who know me well. I would certainly like to think I’m my father’s son in that regard.
So what of Harley Park now? It’s largely the same. The kiosk where we used to get an ice cream afterwards is still there. The Grand Hotel’s still there, albeit now just another soulless Gold Coast high rise, like so many others. High rises! Ah yes, high rises. Dad was one of the first town planners on the Gold Coast. We moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast in 1965 for him to take up the position. The Gold Coast was mainly sand and water.
Despite the pressure from the white shoe brigade, the Gold Coast property developers, Dad strongly opposed the building of high rises on the Surfers Paradise beachfront. Why? He argued that they would cast a shadow over the beach in the afternoon, spoiling the experience of those going to the coast for surf, sun and sand. He lost, but he was right! Go for a stroll along Surfers Paradise beach of an afternoon now, and see what I mean.
But hang on, I was back at Harley Park, wasn’t I? It certainly gave both Ian and me the opportunity to peacefully reflect on our father’s life. Well we could do that on Friday at least, not Sunday. The bogans on the jet skis and driving the jet boats on the Broadwater took care of any peaceful reflection. Of course there was no such noise from the Volunteer Marine Rescue boat that glided up to the Harley Park jetty, transporting the paramedic and patient from somewhere on the Broadwater to the waiting ambulance. Dad was incredibly proud of the many years he spent volunteering as a radio operator for Volunteer Marine Rescue. Indeed, the last time I saw him, when he was contemplating his poor health and what might happen, he left me with very clear instructions that he wanted his ashes cast into the water at the Gold Coast Sea Wall, where Volunteer Marine Rescue is located. Volunteering! Radio operation! Sound familiar? Yep, my father’s son.
Back to Harley Park. Ian and I reflected on all the times we spent with Dad, pumping yabbies. Indeed that yabby pump, from probably 35 years ago is still in the cupboard at Dad’s unit. But what’s on that sign at Harley Park? No yabby pumping! Yep, things have changed. But they’ve changed for the better in some ways as well. 30 pelicans quietly paddle around the swimming lagoon, thankfully not being harassed by the myriad of kids at Harley Park today. I don’t remember them being there when I was a kid.
I love pelicans – they’re one of my three favourite animals. What a joy it is to see so many of them in the lagoon and gracefully gliding overhead as I’m reflecting on my father’s life. And how ironic it is that Gold Coast Council, for whom my Dad gave so many dedicated years, has apparently tried to get rid of them.
I’m not sure if we’ll get back to Harley Park again. Perhaps briefly tomorrow when it will be quiet again. Perhaps to uncover some more happy memories of Dad and growing up on the Gold Coast.
Farewell Dad. I love you.
William Phillip Daniel
(28 Feb 1931 – 24 Nov 2010)