I never agreed with my grandfather about anything, really. I was a stroppy little libertarian when I was younger, and a rabid atheist, which didn’t sit well with his muscular Christian socialism. We argued constantly: about communities, theism, technology, relationships. He was almost impossible to pin down on anything resembling a logical argument: every point would be met by an anecdote, every refutation by a quote from a Latin poet. To a mathematical, Apollonian mind, he was frustratingly Dionysian, and for a while, that blinded me to the deep humanity behind everything that he said.
He had a looping, elliptical mind - he ran on narrative and allusion, anecdote and myth. He’d sit me down and tell me stories from Ovid, of historical parallels between allied action in the Dardanelles and the Odyssean myth of Scylla and Charybdis, but couldn’t follow the concept of the Internet no matter how patiently I explained it. He’d sit, and nod, as i wildly gestured at decentralised webs of machines, and at the end of it, say “Well that’s very interesting, Mark, but where is it?”
He repeated his stories, over and over. He asked us if we were taught the Homunculus theory in our biology classes, and mourned the loss of scholarship when we told him no. Every now and then, though, something would slip out between the cracks of a well-oiled conversational machine. He’d talk about burying 500 men in Papua New Guinea, of the deep love he had for infantrymen, and of responding to MacArthur’s comment about the rugged terrain in the Owen Stanleys: that MacArthur ought to tie on a pair of boots and find out for himself.
He was cocky enough to defy his uncles and go to university, humble enough to follow the precepts of a faith that tried to define as little as possible, and bloody-minded enough to work long shifts as a storeman while he was doing it. He’d talk of “Wotton bull”: of confidence (bordering on arrogance) that you had the capability to do something, mixed with the unglamorous grit required to actually make it happen.
He led a long, varied and thoroughly unconventional life, but biographical detail wouldn’t show the contradictions inherent in him. He was a pacifist who brought down a Japanese soldier with a flying rugby tackle, a classics scholar who was just as happy talking to a wharfie as the governor-general, a deeply religious man who had nothing but contempt for the “so-called evangelicals”. He lost many parishioners when he vocally opposed the Vietnam war, and lost no sleep over it.
There’s so much I’m skipping over here: his theology, his instinctive sympathy for the little guy, his long and happy marriage to Marjorie, his war service, his hatred of war. All I can say is this: He was a bundle of paradoxes, a fierce intellectual influence, and a warm and loving human being. I will miss him more than I can say.