After the Flood is dedicated to my beautiful father, Donald Cooney, who passed away in March, 2019. At the start of the book, I have included an extract of my eulogy to him. At the funeral, my brothers did a wonderful job talking about Dad's life and his many achievements. What I wanted to do was speak about what he had meant to me personally. Who he was to me. And I wanted to speak from my heart. It wasn't easy.
What I didn't account for was the reaction I got. After the funeral, people I barely knew came up to me and began to share their own stories about how my father had had a profound effect on their life too. One man told me that my father had saved his life. An indigenous man told me how my father's friendship to his family had changed their lives for the better. An aunt told me that my father's thoughtfulness during her darkest hour was something she would never forget. The incredible power of these people's stories showed me what a difference one humble, gentle person can make in the world.
My full eulogy is shared below.
On the morning of his last day, I touched Dad gently on his shoulder and said “Dad, it’s Stacy. I wanted to tell you that I love you one last time,” and his mouth opened and closed as if he was trying to respond. I imagine he was saying, “I love you, too” because “I love you” were words he had said to me so many times before.
A few people suggested he might have been trying to tell me where he had hidden the gold, except…Dad didn’t hide the gold. Dad was the gold.
We all have our own stories to tell and our own perspectives about the kind of person Donald Cooney was, but from everything that has been said about him over the past week, I think we all agree that my father was an exceptional human being.
Many of you have commented what a lovely man he was. A good bloke, you say. You talk with affection about his sense of humour and his incredible generosity, about how he would give his last dollar or the shirt off his back to help out a family member, a friend, an acquaintance, or even a complete stranger. And you can’t help but comment on his intelligence, his humility and his integrity.
Above all else, I hear you speak about the strength of his relationships. Throughout his lifetime, Dad developed abiding friendships with an entire circus of people – and by circus, I mean that neither age, race, sex, appearance nor ability was ever an impediment to him calling someone his friend. And, as Ellie has said, Dad loved his family unconditionally.
Every member of Dad’s family and each of his friends has a special and unique relationship with him.
Today, I will tell you of a few of the things that made him so very special to me.
Dad felt nature. It was as though he could turn down the volume of his senses and allow the beauty of nature to seep right into his soul. Whenever I went out into the bush with him as a child, I would sense the deep connection he had with the Earth. He understood the vast cycles that moved around him while, at the same time, he noticed the tiniest of creatures, the intricacy of a spider’s web; the arrangement of a leaf’s veins and the slightest change to the way the air felt. He was a true conservationist who understood the nesting habits of every species of bird in Western Queensland and he even knew where to find the rare Hall’s Babbler.
Dad also appreciated the cultural history of the land he inhabited, and, I think, he learned a great deal from his indigenous friend, Jack Mitchell. One day when I was a girl, he stopped the car on this lonely ridge, so he could show me a plant that stored water in its leaves and could be used as a source of hydration if no other water was available. He then proceeded to point out a thousand-year-old roadway that had once been used by aboriginal people, then he showed me where these people had built their campfire, and a story began to emerge from the stark landscape around me. To me, it was all just dirt, rocks and a few straggly plants.
“Half close your eyes,” he said. “That will make it easier to see what’s really there.”
Dad was deeply affected by human endeavour and was a great admirer of any kind of artistic and creative talent. He was fascinated with patterns and symmetry; and he loved the collection of things. I remember the rich blues, greens and purples of his old bottle collection and the hours we spent digging them from the ground. I recall the musty scent of his stamp collection, the days when a new packet of freshly minted coins would arrived on the mail truck, the bird and sheep figurines, the hames hooks, the bells and the limited addition, author-signed books.
Dad had the most beautiful handwriting; and he loved the infinite possibility of words. We shared words, Dad and I, giving them to each other as though they were precious gifts. We shared ineffable and whimsy. Pluviophile, woebegone, sonorous and quark.
Dad loved dessert—most particularly he loved ice-cream—and he didn’t necessarily wait until after dinner to eat it. Tyson tells a lovely story from when he was a young boy. He’d awoken early one morning, before the sun was up, his head buzzing about of something he’d discovered in one of his comic books. As he wandered through the house, he saw Dad sitting quietly outside eating a bowl of ice cream. So he went out and sat next to him in the quietness of that pre-dawn. He looked up into Dad’s face and he said, “Did you know that the baroness is snake-eye's ex-girlfriend?”
Dad chose gentleness over violence. This was evident in everything he did – from working with horses and dogs and livestock to being part of a family. He never attempted to strong arm any of us into doing things his way because he believed we had the right to choose for ourselves. He was a gentle man. Inevitably, however, sometimes he needed to do something that was less gentle, such as killing a sheep for meat or shooting a cow that was stuck in a bog, and whenever he did this in my presence, he would always ask me to look away.
Even though Dad held strong opinions on many things, he would never diminish another person’s point of view. He respected women. By this, I don’t mean that he altered his behaviour because of the expectations of the society he was part of. It was something more deeply genuine than that. To him, women were his equal and he was never intimidated by their strength and independence.
Because of this, he had many female friends including his sisters and his granddaughters. Even his best friend was a woman. When we were preparing for his funeral, Mum and I were discussing the “cacophony” of bells that is soon to take place, and I asked her, “Who would you say was Dad’s best friend?” She looked at me with surprise, as if the answer should have been obvious. “Me, of course,” she said.
Dad always made me feel like a worthy person. With him, I always felt visible and understood because he never judged me through the filter of his own ego. He never needed me to look a certain way or act a certain way in order to enhance his own status in the world. It wasn’t that he didn’t see my flaws. He did. But he accepted them as part of who I was, because, to him, I am perfect just the way I am and he loved me.
So mine is a story of gratitude. I have been so very lucky to have Donald Cooney as my father. Thank- you dad for being my pot of gold.
I have also been so very lucky to have Mum and Dad as my parents. Mum nursed Dad at home until five days before he died—it was an enormous act of strength and selfless love as, every day, she watched her love slipping away. Thank-you Mum for being Dad’s best friend for the last sixty-one years. With you by his side, he was a happy man.
I leave you with this quote by writer and thaumaturge, C. JoyBell C.
A star falls from the sky and into your hands. Then it seeps through your veins and swims inside your blood and becomes every part of you. And then you have to put it back into the sky. And it's the most painful thing you'll ever have to do and that you've ever done. But what's yours is yours. Whether it’s up in the sky or here in your hands.