Andrew Neaum

To be greeted at Melbourne airport by an animated daughter, Elizabeth, and on a cool, sunny evening was balm to the soul, even if our luggage turned out not to be on the same plane as Diana and myself. Then the journey back to Shepparton, by way of the lovely Mickleham route, along roads with verges thickly grassed and past paddocks heavy with hay augured well for a happy return indeed. For Diana to view Victoria for the first time in such early summer fruitfulness, and bathed in a still gentle and falling sun’s lovely light was auspicious indeed.


It all brought to mind one of my very favourite poems (not all together appropriately, for the poem refers to the return of God, not a mere Rector and wife, but then much that pops into a magpie mind like mine is less than perfectly appropriate):

                                                             How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean

                                                             Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;


                                                                        Grief melts away

                                                                        Like snow in May,

                                                             As if there were no such cold thing.

                                                             Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart

                                                             Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone

                                                             Quite under ground; as flowers depart

                                                             To see their mother-root, when they have blown;

                                                                        Where they together

                                                                        All the hard weather,

                                                             Dead to the world, keep house unknown.


                                                             And now in age I bud again,

                                                             After so many deaths I live and write;

                                                             I once more smell the dew and rain,

                                                             And relish versing: O my only light,

                                                                        It cannot be

                                                                        That I am he

                                                             On whom thy tempests fell all night.


It is good to be back, it really is. The past six months have been hugely enriching, unutterably good, altogether worthwhile, but it is still great to be back, and for Diana to return to live again (after so many years) in that most stimulating of all domestic hubs, an Anglican rectory, is also a happy return, especially to a rectory set in such sylvan and well flowered grounds. On our second evening back we heard odd chortlings, squeaks, grunts and rustlings in the mulberry tree outside the back door. Torchlight revealed a flock of guzzling, spitting, urinating bats. This is new. Up until now it has been only the beautiful lorikeets and other light-winged denizens of the day that have graced this lovely tree to lift the spirits at this time of the year. To have their diurnal beauty offset and balanced by less than beautiful but altogether fascinating and well fabled denizens of the night gladdened our hearts enormously.


Having just written the last paragraph I had a short conversation, by courtesy of Skype, with Rachel in England. On hearing me tell of our greedy and voluble bats she responded by telling me that the book she is presently reading (“Pale Fire” by Nabokov, a fascinating and brilliant read if ever there was one) had just referred to a crawling bat as being “like a cripple with a broken umbrella....” a brilliant image.


There is much for which to be grateful then. Not least Gough Whitlam for conceiving of and putting into place “long-service leave”, but also a parish that seems to have been delighted for me to have so long an absence rather than resenting it, and Gail, Helen and so many more, not least our “locums”, because they and all of you in your willingness to shoulder any necessary and extra responsibilities helped quieten into complete quiescence my conscience at taking so long a slab of leave.


Love, sacrificing-love, enlarges, transforms and makes sense of human existence. One of the main reasons that I remain a Christian is that this sweet Faith puts love (in the shape of a cross) at the heart of everything, even of the Godhead, making love our raison d’etre. In being granted as widower and widow the great and rare privilege of learning in marriage to love a second time, Diana and myself are mindful that it is neither necessary nor desirable to turn our backs on our previous loves and loyalties. We endeavour rather to remain loyal and true to our old loves in our new love. Because Diana’s Michael and my Margaret shared with us both in a familial friendship many years ago, this has been easier than might otherwise have been the case. We feel, without being at all presumptious, their blessing upon us both and are glad too of yours as well.