ANARE Club Members Tribute to Dr Phil Law
by Dr Sue Halliwell – Friday 23 April 2010, Melbourne
It was a grey day with light, misty rain, not unlike a typical day on Macca, where many comrades and colleagues, friends, relatives and acquaintances gathered at the ANARE Club’s invitation, to pay tribute to the remarkable life of Dr. Phillip Garth Law.
The Current President of the ANARE Club, Ralph Fletcher gave the opening address and introduced the Guest Speakers for the afternoon’s proceedings. On display in the Parkside room were two handsome portraits of Dr. Law by Artist Vladamir Sobolev. Also a Commemorative Book to be signed by all present.
The most remarkable impression to take away from the day was that three hours is not enough to celebrate one such life. Each Guest Speaker enlightened us with many humorous occasions that were a fond memory by many present. They spoke of leadership, humour, purpose, energy, initiative, willingness and camaraderie. All good traits needed to endure the trials to be faced in Australia with administrative hurdles and in the Antarctic facing the physical, logistical and meteorological hurdles of establishing bases and running science programs.
Ray McMahon, colleague and friend for fifty years, gave a delightful tapestry of Dr. Law personality in his retirement. Just recently escorting Phil to lunch at the Chelsea Pensioners monthly luncheon, or was his intention. The dilemma for Phil in choosing a tie, needing his shoe laces to be tied and trouser zip to be zipped. The eye to eye stand off in persuading the Nursing Staff Manager at Phil’s residence the he WAS going out to lunch. And once in Ray’s car Phil giving unwavering directions to be taken to his favourite Club, the Kelvin Club. Here though Ray ignored the street directions he was given and preceded into town along the more conventional route. Ray had a licence and was not always on the look out for “Mr. Plod”. The outing was all worth while when after getting a round of drinks from the bar; Ray saw Phil had been well accommodated for being seated under the etching of him and being surrounded by many enquiring admirers
Syd Kirkby also a colleague and friend, spoke of his extraordinary leadership qualities. His exceptional administrative skills and Phil’s expectations of his co-workers. Quoting Phil in that “Yeah, we were fighting out of our weight but not out of our class”. And imparted the story of Phil’s history with Antarctic beginnings, as well as a list of many of the achievements of ANARE. One item Phil was pleased to receive but which the wait for was long, the Polar Medal.
Back in the fifties Phil was asked if he would accept the Polar medal, due to specific requirements needing to satisfied, Phil held that he would do so if a small handful of his fellow workers received one as well. This did not come to pass, so he declined the offer despite probably yearning for one. In years to come Dr. Law was granted a Polar Medal and it was bestowed upon him by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll.
One trip stands out- In 1965, the Amery Ice Shelf they found themselves restricted with equipment failure. That the landing party would go ashore in eight motor boats. The survey equipment set up, Phil with flag in hand was seen roped together with two others climbing up a peak, but the gyro of the theodolite was spinning wildly and Phil and co were noted to be in a bit of a flurry, then climbing back down again – as the three walked past it was quietly but gruffly noted that it was an iceberg they had climbed!!!!!!
When asked which Phil’s worst trips were, he would say his first and his last.
Syd left us with the comment that he would like us to carry with us the thought that Phil would much rather be celebrated than mourned, and to always start a talk with a joke or three, Hear, Hear!
Marg Twigg representing the Antarctic Wives and friends Association, Wife of Doug Twigg OBE (which Marg explained really meant “over bloody eighty”) told the club began by Phil’s wife Nell and has been going strong for 48 years since it’s formation in 1965.
Nell, a beautiful, talented, wonderful woman designed their emblem, a snow petrel and in 1966 introduced Mrs. Casey as the Patron. Nell, who also put up with the long periods of absence from her husband, found ways of bringing the wives and friends together to support one another and network and over come obstacles.
Both Phil and Nell saw that if the men in the Antarctic had happy families at home that all could work more productively. That each departure and arrival were a celebration at Station Pier, with family friends dignitaries, a band, streamers and confetti. She spoke of Nell and Phil’s deep mutual affection and of Nell’s love of the arts and cultural influence on Phil.
“We can cry because he died, or we can laugh because he lived”.
Dr. Des Lugg friend and Antarctic Expeditioner for over fifty years told us that Phil took meticulous notes on his life, which are now all archived and can be accessed on the World Wide Web. That in the days when Phil being head if the Antarctic Division when it was based in Melbourne at the former site of the Victoria Barracks, 568 St Kilda Road, over came many financial obstacles to develop the bases from which to do science. Yes, Phil was even an excellent publicist with each voyage south being seen off by dignitaries. And of his forward thinking in initiating pre voyage training, developing in field manuals and organising supplies for the bases. Also of his great disappointment in ANARE being changed to the Australian Antarctic Program
Camilla Van Megan Former CEO of RSV was called to Phil’s bed side in his final hours until his parting at 1 pm. Although Phil was having difficulty breathing, with a knowing look and wiry smile he acknowledge her presence and the beautiful flowers. Camilla also had many a challenge when accompanying Phil on outings and though she would out fox him by not visiting close to lunch time, instead visiting for afternoon tea. But she didn’t know the lengths of Phil’s cunning when he would then enquire “well, where are we going for dinner?” as he trotted off to the front door. (We laughed with her at her dilemma and admired her ability to keep Phil entertained until the evening restaurant opened at the latest pub that Phil wanted to visit).
Phil loved sports cars, and when he purchased his Celica, he bowled into the RSV offices and asked “Camilla will you come for a burn with me?”
Camilla being at work!!!! Said “no”. The story went like this– So Phil decided to go up the Hume Highway alone and gunned it – 180 kph! But was soon being chased by Mr. Plod. When stopped he asked Mr. Plod “Do you know who I am? I was very careful, I did look out for you and that the coast was clear. How on earth did you catch me?”
To which Mr. Plod replied coolly “Helicopter”.
Phil did loose his licence twice. He wrote to the Minister of transport and got his licence back at 95 years of age!!!! One day he went to see his former home after which he reversed and explained that he got stuck -..he had reversed over a fire hydrant! Phil didn’t drive after that.
Fred Elliott, colleague comrade and later Antarctic Artist told of the experience on Kergulan in 1955.That the French base Commander expressed his dismay at the lack of respect the men showed towards Phil as their Expedition Leader.
In a strong French accent and a shrug of his shoulders he said, â€œ when the men want to see me they make an appointment, but when you men want to see Dr. Law you just yell “eh, Phil”.
Mark Forecast read out an email with a tribute from Ian Thomas, who worked along side Phil at the AAD when its Headquarters were in St Kilda Rd, entailing facts about fighting with bureaucrats; and whose last words were that Ian thought Dr. Law achieved more than Robert Falcon Scott. Mark also relayed the gruelling interview that he had with Phil and Kevin Lomas for a position at Wilkes in 1965.
After a barrage of questions from Phil like: “can you cook? What do you know about medicine? What musical instrument do you play?” Ken was finally allowed to ask a question, “can you convert Centigrade to Farenheight?” to which Phil sharply cut in with “don’t worry about that sort of stuff, C is on one side of the thermometer and F is on the other!”. Mark got the job.
The afternoon was concluded with three rousing cheers lead by ANARE President Ralph Fletcher and all present were reminded to sign the guest book and invited to afternoon tea. A lot more stories were enjoyed and of course plenty of red wine – but, no cigars.