My first visit to the Mallee was 20 years ago. Kathryn and I were home for the Easter Races.
Una and Neil were waiting to greet us and the kitchen table was set with a box of knuckle bones to devour and chocolate cake to round things off!
I had never experienced a place anything like Patche; such a little place AND such a sense of community, something that Una believed in passionately. My first thought whenever I think of Patche is Una walking across her back lawn, her smile dazzling, her lipstick impeccable, her arms outstretched and always that same greeting:
Welcome to The Mallee!
I am speaking today for all the friends of the Walch children who have been welcomed so spectacularly and so sincerely by Una - to the Mallee, but also into the heart of the Walch clan. Una's welcome was as genuine as her beautiful smile and enthusiasm for whatever event or adventure was about to take place.
Over the years Una and I have shared time and coffee in many different places:
In Ballarat, at Fairfield hospital when Kathryn was so ill, in Windsor with Greg, In London just a couple of weeks after Alex was born; (I believe that was also the trip where Una was introduced to flaming sambuccas and decided that as an intrepid traveller it was yet another of life's little adventures in which to partake!). Weve had coffee at the Heidelberg hospital on many occasions when Neil would be in for a visit, in Brighton at Greg and Nola's, in Hampton with Kathryn and Arthur, at Southland Shopping Centre, at Hampton Street Shopping Centre and in my home. Una was at home wherever she had family and friends, her beloved family - but to me, Una belonged to the Mallee. The Queen of The Mallee Doc used to call her!
In our family we celebrate Bastille Day with a traditional French dinner. One particular year Una joined us and was initially a little taken aback by the menu:
frogs legs, snails, raw meat, red wine;
but again, adventurer that she was, no problem she ate, drank and tried to sing the French National Anthem along with everyone else. She loved a party! That was the occasion for Una when she decided that since all her children enjoyed red wine so much, she was going to persevere to acquire the taste also. Despite Warren's assurances that the 2nd or 3rd glass would taste even better, Una decided that she and red wine were not compatible, but she had acquired a taste for Baileys.
On the occasions when our family visited Una, Una and I would often sit up together after the children were in bed for our favourite supper - Baileys and ice cream! Many a philosophical discussion was held in those chairs over a bowl or two, of supper.
There is a small extract of poetry about friendship from The Prophet that I would like to read:
And let your best be for your friend.
If she must know the ebb of your tide
then let her know its flood also.
For what is a friend that you
should seek her out with hours to kill?
Seek her always with hours to live.
For it is hers to fill your need,
but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there
be laughter and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things
the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
With Una there was much laughter and much sharing of pleasures. Her enthusiasm, determination and love of life was not just refreshing it was invigorating to all she knew.
Whenever Una arrived in Hampton I would look forward immensely to that first cup of coffee around the kitchen table to catch up on her latest adventures. I can picture her face as she would retell her times with Marilyn and Jeff and their families in Queensland; what the grandchildren were up to now, her pride and her passion for her own five beautiful children, their partners and her joy in her grandchildren.
One trip we talked about endlessly was her trip to the Mouth of the Murray with Susan and Adrian. She told me that after she had seen the Murray, she felt complete. She didn't explain further, I am not sure I knew what she meant, but we spoke of that trip often and it was very special to her.
So to all the Walch family - we, your friends, love her too. Una, you have made us feel part of your family, you have made us feel at home in this unusual part of the country - we thank you for involving us in experiences we would never have known. We promise to look after our friends - your children. And we will miss you - our friend!
With love from Kathryn Gahan and family.