George and Me

The odd couple. One tall and skinny, the other of average height and skinny (then). Ex work colleagues whose sole point of commonality included working for the same company, General Motors-Holden’s Ltd, Port Melbourne, in the same building, and being involved with the same small camera club, GM-H Camera Club. One was the Vice-President, the other the new Secretary of the Club at their time of meeting. Photography. Helping others. Learning. Sociability. These factors all came into it.

He one of the section managers, electrical engineering; she and her ‘boss’, just the two of them, setting up the Product Policy department, which later became the Planning dept. Ten year plans for vehicles, engines and exports. Time: the late ’70s.

George, born 5th August 1918 in South Australia. Married Shirley when he was 23 years old. Moved to Melbourne to work at GM-H, where he stayed until he retired. They had nine children, one of whom died quite young. Just before retiring, they bought five acres of an old orchard located on the Mornington Peninsula, surrounded by vineyards. Built a mudbrick home designed by his architect son and aided in the build by the rest of the family, including making the bricks from clay on their property. A beautiful home in a lovely environment. I could very easily live there. Another son is a successful professional photographer involved with fashion. They lived an eco-sustainable life. Shirley had espoused vegetarianism and good health before it became the in thing. She a May baby, a few years younger.

Janina, born 15th May 1947 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Migrated to Australia with her mother in 1951, landing in the immigration camp at Somers on the Mornington Peninsula. Actually, not that far away from George’s home there. For the first three years, she led an idyllic life because of the location by the sea, and the people in the camp, who became virtually all her babysitters as her mother worked for the camp commander as interpreter and block supervisor. She was a popular little girl and received lots of dolls as gifts from the camp inmates. A ‘wild’ thing, summer was spent in this idyllic environment in shorts and barefoot, doing lots of running, swimming in the creek, building sandcastles, beach walks to the next town, Balnarring, with friends, and eventually learning to ride a bicycle, climb the local pine trees and lark about in the paddocks, it being a farming community, and side-stepping the summer snakes. A real tomboy who grew tall for her age. Lederhosen and all.

The camera club was very active, small, around fifty members, all men except for Janina and the odd occasional wife-visitor (probably to check her out and see why their menfolk were now so busy with the club). The club entered many state-wide and interstate competitions and, on the whole, did very well in that arena. George would be asked to arrange the monthly judges who came to adjudicate the entries. He knew lots of good people. Helmut Newton came one month, to talk about what one sees and how to improve that aspect, he joined us on an external outing to take female nude photos in the countryside, then later on came again to judge the entries and show us his take. That was my first time seeing how something can be turned into an abstract, in camera. His nude abstracts were fabulous. And he was such a character too and bon vivant. I liked him.

Janina got people involved by asking them to write specific articles for her, to include in the newly resurrected monthly club newsletter, for which she edited, produced and also wrote. Membership numbers started to increase. The club activity was an extra load onto her already very busy normal workload. One year was enough!

Fast-forward to the year 2001, eventful for both George and Janina. Shirley had died mid that year and she came to know about it only through reading the obituaries in the city’s daily newspaper. She quickly got in touch and he welcomed the visit, her first to his lovely home. They kept in touch on an irregular basis, having the occasional meal together or talking on the phone and sending Christmas cards to each other. George was a man very much of his era, having somewhat traditional views about the roles man and woman ‘should’ play, yet showing concern for me and my solitary life and getting to understand it. I think, at one point, he may have tried to matchmake with his photographer-son, whose wife had also died a few years earlier, leaving him with two daughters. Nothing happened. There needs to be chemistry.

The gallery below shows larger contact images which George took of Janina one evening at his son’s photo studio. Ostensibly for a monthly camera club entry on portraits, but, when you look closely at them, she thought it may have been his way of showing her some things needed to be worked on. You look in the mirror every day, but the camera never lies. After she saw them, although being the ‘best’ photos taken of her, ever, she went to a plastic surgeon and had all the growths removed from her face, and got to work on the very bad acne, which eventually cleared up a couple of years later. In these photos, Janina was 31yo and looking the spitting image of her (unknown) father. George never used any of these as his entry. I don’t blame him!

Unfortunately, Janina has lost the only photo she had of George and her together, taken a couple of months after Shirley’s death. That day they had done a short tour around the Peninsula and ended up at Seawinds Conservation Park, atop the mountain ridge near to the Port Phillip bay side of the peninsula and one of his favourite places. She had set up her tripod and D80, self-timed, they both next to each other resting against the boundary fence, a windy day, appropriate to the park’s name and Janina holding her hair off her face, and showing a stunning view of the bay and the rest of the peninsula in the background. It was a mild and cloudy/sunny day. That picture is etched in her memory and of the enjoyable day itself.

2001 was a very hard year for Janina. In January she had a bilateral oophorectomy and the very large bloodclot over the right ovary, having attached itself to surrounding organs and travelling down to the pelvic floor, needed much cutting. No cancer ‘tho, thank goodness. In the afore-mentioned picture, she still looked ill and was overweight. Looking at that photo later, she noticed that they both had the same nose! The odd things that you notice. Feeling okay at the time of the pic, it actually took almost three full years for her to recover. Other events got in the way that year which had exacerbated her recovery. Having strength of mind, being a cool, calm and collected person and resourceful, she knew that this too would eventually pass. But, it was good to have George to speak with. Kinda like a surrogate Dad. His life’s experiences and wisdom helped her to remain calm and focused. They could laugh together. And she has a wicked sense of humour, as some WordPress bloggers are finding out!

But, George is now 97 and he hasn’t been well for quite some time. Currently in hospital, ostensibly in Rehab (yeah, right) for about one month now, he knows the end is near, as he has told me. Both he and I are fiercely independent, but there comes a time when you need to let others look after you. That time is now for George. How much longer? Who knows. I have expressed to him my gratitude for his friendship towards me and am sending virtual hugs to him each time he comes to mind.

I am writing this post as a small tribute to this man. Here’s a quote I came across in a book I have started re-reading many years after first purchasing it, called Soul Mates [Honouring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship] by Thomas Moore. The book is about more than just the title might infer. I think George would agree with the  premise in this haiku, as do I.

The bird a nest
The spider a web
Man friendship
….William Blake, poet + artist

Thank you, Ken, for helping me to get out of the funk I’ve been in for these past weeks, it broke the spell. You understand exactly, my friend.  ❤

31dec2015 Update:

G Christmas mono
Vale George Wallis.

One of his daughters, Kathy, rang me this afternoon, 31dec, to let me know he had passed away peacefully last night. We had a good chat about him and his final days. I mentioned that the last time I spoke with George was on Christmas Day. He spoke first and wished me a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Compared with previous phone calls, he sounded quite bright. I wished the same for him, and asked what he had planned for that day. He was to spend it with family, but was too weak to get up from his bed, so the family came and visited him and spent a few hours together. He’s now with Shirley again and, no doubt, will be the guardian angels watching over his family, and, hopefully, me too! I’ll miss his quiet and patience. Farewell, George. I won’t say what I’m feeling and thinking right now…

rose yellow

Further update: Some final words. It’s been a while since George’s passing. The family held a memorial service, rather than a funeral, as that’s what he wanted; unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to distance and lack of mobility. However, I have spoken with Cathy since, as a form of closure on this part of my life and this connection. The service went well, along with the scattering of his ashes, to join with Shirley’s at their favourite beach of Shoreham (one of my fave places too). This was the first place George took me to on our short tour of the Peninsula, mentioned in the post above. I now understand. All places both he and Shirley loved and which are also some places I like too. I felt sad to learn that his beautiful property is being prepared for sale during the Autumn days, when it will look its best and most enticing. I know, nothing lasts forever. It will be interesting to see if any of the surrounding wineries purchase it to add to their stock. And then, perhaps, to keep it as a tasting room cum cafe or restaurant, an ideal outcome. I think George would be very happy if that happened. Fingers crossed!

A duo of veins. Do you see the little heart in the background?
A duo of veins. Do you see the little white heart in the background? Photographed nearby George’s home using my D80 in macro mode.

Author: jmnowak

Long-time photo enthusiast, my 'style' could be defined as colourful and eclectic, 'tho I do like to experiment.

5 thoughts on “George and Me”

  1. A lovely story. People don’t often realize that it’s possible to be fellow travelers without being in the same vessel or even going the same place. My very heartfelt sympathy for your loss and warm regards. BTW my birthday: 31 Dec. 1946. Odd, no?

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  2. So glad that Ken encouraged you to process your emotions and feelings. This post speaks volumes and so do the photos. I see a lovely woman, with a gentle heart. George is a lucky man.

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