Stacko Jackson

Early bicycle race edit

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his real name.

But, along with an extensive list of other things, dad didn’t reveal his given name.

Stacko and his wife turned up one evening at our home, which was an event in itself — we rarely had visitors and almost never from outside of dad’s family circle.

I don’t remember much about him or his wife — I was young, and it was a long time ago.

The evening went well, as I remember, but there was no reciprocal visit, and therein lies a tale.

The two couples played cards and talked about old times, and I listened from my bedroom.

Stacko was an almost mythical figure from my dad’s time as a professional cyclist. Dad finished sixth in a board track final where the first four were to represent Australia in the 1936 Olympics. Board track was dad’s second string event. His real event was the road race, but he had to concentrate on one event, and he chose the wrong one. No one remembers who won the silver medal and absolutely no-one remembers who came close to qualifying — except me — I remember.

This sort of thing happened to my dad.

He had a lot of success as a sportsman and had a trophy case to prove it, but the really big wins eluded him.

He grew up within spitting distance of the old Fitzroy Football ground and narrowly missed being included in their roster, back when they were part of the highest league in the land. By the time the war had ended, he was at the end of his playing days, and although he was strong and quick, he was also lacking in height when compared with those who he was competing against.

These ‘near misses’, the Great Depression, the War, and losing his father at a young age, coloured my father’s view of the world and his place in it.

He learned a trade when life should have propelled him into a profession. He was a superlative tradesman, but he would have been an excellent accountant or solicitor. In his hands, numbers sang sweetly.

At fifteen, he won an all-expenses scholarship that would have been followed by another one that would have taken him to University.

A short time after being presented with a gold-tipped fountain pen in recognition of his high scores, his father died suddenly, leaving my father as the only hope for a mother and her six children. My dad was the eldest.

With the glowing praise of Archbishop Mannix, an icon in Melbourne history, still ringing in his ears, my father left school and began work at the height of the Great Depression. Another near miss — another brush with ‘what might have been’.

When I was young, my father told me many stories, mostly about his years as an athlete, but as the years went by my father became progressively more reserved. The stories stopped. I can only surmise that he believed that life had passed him by.

I will never know what might have happened to him if I had not come along, but I do know that I arrived, fully formed, as a disturbed eighteen-month-old tornado, he did as he would always do for the rest of his life — he behaved responsibly. He worked hard and supported his family and watched his dreams fade like smoke on a gentle breeze.

I make it sound like it was all one-way traffic, but it wasn’t.

Just before I came along, he launched himself into a career as a professional gambler.

In a rare moment, he showed me his ledgers from that time. As I mentioned, my dad and numbers danced happily together.

One ledger showed that he paid back a loan from a wealthy relative in eighteen months. The loan was to buy a three bedroom home. Think about what a three bedroom home on a quarter acre block is worth in your neighbourhood and then imagine what skill it took to pay back that amount in eighteen months.

This was dad’s one big chance to prove himself to himself.

It was an uncertain lifestyle, and it meant dealing with some unsavoury characters, but my dad was healthy, and he could handle himself, but, in the end, it wasn’t a disgruntled gambler with a knife that ended my father’s dream, it was my mother.

She was childless and scared and the uneven flow of income fed into her anxiety. She never expressed it to me, but I expect that she also feared for his safety.

In the end, she gave him the ‘it’s me or the gambling, one of us has to go’ speech.

He chose her and even while he was showing me his ledgers there was never a hint of recrimination. She stole his dream of ‘being someone’, and he never reproached her for it. This was also my dad — he excepted responsibility for his decisions.

I pushed dad a few times for answers when he told his stories. I wanted to know how ‘Stacko’ got his name. I suggested that it was because he crashed his bike one too many times back in their riding days, but he insisted that wasn’t it. Even then, I could sense a story, but dad would not budge, “It’s just a nickname we gave him. I don’t remember how it started.” It was the way that he said it — there was definitely more to that story, but my dad has been gone a long time now and even though he comes to me in my dreams quite regularly he has never referred to “Stacko Jackson’. Mostly, we just hang out and do stuff, just like we did in later life.

That was my dad too, he understood the power of being with someone. Words were not necessary. I live my life surrounded by words, but I know what he meant, and I treasure those dreams where we simply hang out together.

The night where Stacko Jackson and his wife came to visit was a futile attempt to rekindle a time that had long passed. The friendship did not rekindle, and I know why because I’ve tried to do this myself.

You can’t go back.

The Stacko Jackson’s of this world belong back there. They belong in stories we tell our sons about our glory days.

When they reemerge, they are invariably a disappointment. That spark of life that we remember in them is dimmed by life, and even if it isn’t, it is probably dimmed in us, and they see that and wisely stay away.

Someone sagacious said that “the past is another country; they do things differently there.”

I try to stay away from that country, but I can’t help wondering what ‘Stacko’ made of that night so long ago. Did he sense my father’s despair or was it Stacko’s lost dreams that saddened my father.

In any case, it matters very little now.

I love my life, and I miss all of the amazing people who have come and gone.

The ‘foreign country’ where my father and Mr Jackson reside is still fascinating to me. I don’t need a passport or a visa to visit — all I need to do is fall asleep.


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