Let’s Celebrate!

Inspiration from forebears

What would my life have been if my grandfather had stayed in Finland? If he had joined his brother and nephew to expel the Russian overlords, been conscripted into their army? If he had married a blue-eyed, blonde Finnish Swede and fathered his dynasty there I would weave between three languages like my northern relatives do.

But on 26 November 1902, Wilhelm Anders Back (‘WA’) embarked on that 15,000 kilometre voyage south to safe haven near the pounding breakers of the Pacific Ocean.

Wilhelm Anders Back aged 16 in 1903

Wilhelm Anders Back aged 16 in 1903

In the Great Southland, enterprising settlers might make a fortune, or they might lose all. Some ventures would be dashed, like breakers that come to grief on rocks. Others would take wings. WA had an eagle eye for opportunities and the talons­—or gnawed fingernails­—to seize them. In tough times he would horse-trade dairy farms, houses, a Barrier Reef island, factories, Italian art.

Granddad journeyed long distances from his hub in the lush New South Wales hinterland to forge his pastoral empire in the arid outback. Where his sons worked the land and raised children, but escaped to the coast to replenish their spirits.

The sea is in our blood.

[Excerpt from "Midnight Sun to Southern Cross"]

This week marked the 45-year anniversary of Granddad’s death

We last saw Granddad when he presided as patriarch at my own wedding. He passed away two weeks later. Out of range, on our honeymoon, we missed his funeral.

Ruth-Toni-Bonetti-Wedding-1974-WA Back

I little thought that, as we said our vows, Granddad relived his own with Christina Hart. But two weeks before, missing his soul-mate of sixty–two years, he wrote us a reflective letter:

“As I look back now on our marriage at Mooball on the 4thNovember 1908, I can remember it as plain as if it were yesterday. The wedding was in our new home that I had finished only a few days before, and the Minister from Byron Bay came by train to perform the ceremony.”WA-Back_wedding-1908-Mooball_NH

His letter described how he surprised his bride with the gift of a piano—her family were musical—and he’d then phoned to engage a teacher. (Aha! Some musical heritage.)

They knelt at the bedside and asked God to protect and guide and bless them through their lives.

“And we certainly asked for some material blessings that in the eyes of the Lord were very small and he blessed us with very much more than ever we contemplated or asked for. If you take God into your partnership I am sure it will be even better than what you anticipate.”

[Excerpt from "Burn My Letters"]

What Granddad taught me

An old-timer from Byron Bay area hinted tactfully that one does not become a self-made millionaire (as Granddad was reputed to be) without cutting some corners. Some families draft ancestors into pens of white or black sheep, with little variegation between. My books attempt an honest perspective, while giving credit where it’s due. Avoiding all conflict makes for dull reading and robs readers of the opportunities to learn from generational patterns. As I have done.

My grandfather passed on his ingenuity, vision and breadth of experience. Often I remember his motto of ‘Just do it.’ He had faith and an ability to turn difficult situations to positives, to innovate and find opportunities at every turn.

Granddad took seriously his role as patriarch and had a genuine care for his flock of descendants, relatives and emigrant Finns. He was concerned to establish his sons and grandsons, while giving women opportunities rare for that era.

He inspired us all with his generosity and enterprise.

I feel blessed and grateful for my forebears, who gave vision how I might forge my own life.