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Tribute to Rob Brennan(1941-2018)
It is with great sadness that we share the news that early this year Eremos lost one of its leaders, writers, supporters and dear friends.
On the 6th January 2018, Robert Brennan (aka Bobby Dazzler) was holidaying with his much-loved partner Judy and her family on the Clarence river north of Grafton. On this very warm day Rob went for a dip in the river about 6 pmto cool off. He was seen by several people paddling down the river and a bit later seen to go under the water. Family members and other people in the area immediately searched for him and Emergency services were called. The search went until dark and then all of the next day. His body was found on the morning of the 8th January.
His family concluded the story of his deathin this way, ‘He has finished his life in the bush, at a place which was most precious and meaningful to him - the mighty Clarence River. We believe he left this life gently, and although he would not have been keen on all the hullabaloo that surrounded it - we have a sense of peace from the knowledge that the open sky and the gentle waters held him at his end.’
Rob joined the Eremos Council and took on the role of Treasurer in 2000. He became the Eremos Chairperson four years later until 2009 and left the Council in 2010 but continued his involvement in a variety of ways, including as a member of the EREMOS editorial team. Rob was instrumental in the ‘Eremos in the Desert’ pilgrimage that happened in 2014. The photo leading this story is Rob (on the left) with Steve Bradley on that trip. Reflections on that experience may be found here. Travellers-to-Cameron-Corner.
Rob wrote a blog about Prayer a few years ago which you can read here: Rob Brennan on Prayer
Those of us who knew Rob have been shocked and saddened by Rob’s death and there’s a big empty space where he once stood. Don Meadows, a long-time friend, spoke at Rob’s memorial service and an excerpt from that follows.Don’s reflections are followed by a poem written by Alex Nelson, who was on the ‘Eremos in the Desert’ trip with Rob.
Dons Meadows’ tribute
Before we lay Rob to rest with his late wife Patricia Brennan, in accordance with his wish, I think it’s important to say something here about Rob’s part in Patricia’s involvement in the Women’s Movement. I know there were people who thought he was the quiet chauffeur and minder of the household while Patricia pressed her cause in the limelight. This is a long way from the truth. They were both passionate people but expressed it in different ways, working together in the same cause. Patricia may have been the one who pulled on the boxing gloves and jumped into the ring – and sometimes didn’t even bother with the gloves. Her indomitable spirit is here in the love and memories we all hold of her. Rob was, so to speak, her corner-man and his quiet but powerful support enabled Patricia to pursue her passion. But it also worked the other way when Patricia prompted Rob to recognise his passion and encouraged him to pursue it. I came to see that behind their middle-class origins there was a healthy touch of Bohemia.
After Patricia’s death, nearly 7 years ago, Rob met all that his life brought him with the integrity and gentleness of spirit that defined him. He welcomed his younger grandchildren, and found love and deep companionship with Judy and her family. Together Rob and Judy shared a rich and full life with a newly-purchased camper van and many plans into the future.
And that brings me to Rob’s other passions.
Anne and Susan and I went on a Bobby Dazzler Tour with Rob about seven and a half years ago. We – the three passengers – a bunch of city slickers who had very little experience of life outside the metropolitan area, set out with a degree of trepidation. Rob introduced us to the outback. We slept in a rangers’ hut (OK), various pubs (enjoyable) and spent one night in tents under the stars at Montecollina Bore (fabulous). Anne and Susan were disturbed by howling dingoes but I had taken out my hearing aids and had a great night’s sleep. The reason for mentioning all this is that the experience of travelling with Rob for that week meant that we came to share something of his passion for the remote country and its people. Everywhere we stopped we met people who knew him well, regarded him highly and welcomed him to their patch of the outback. And for Rob this was no mere sightseeing. In an article for Eremos he had this to say:
It is not uncommon to hear from Australians who have visited the Outback – even from those of no particular religious bent – that it was in some way a religious experience. Being in the vicinity of Uluru is often characterised as engendering a special feeling of a more or less religious kind. Having travelled extensively in Central Australia over the past several years, I can attest to having had these feelings frequently. Every time I see Uluru, I find it hard not to become tearful.
We know those feelings and they have the same effect on us, so much so that, partly due to Rob’s experience, Anne and I decided to celebrate our golden wedding at Uluru.
And there was another side to Rob that his friends knew, but which may have startled people who had only a passing acquaintance with him. He played a largely self-taught boogie-woogie piano, a twelve-bar blues with the driving left-hand that aficionados call ‘the left hand of God’. When the passion seized him, this quietly reflective actuary became a syncopating demon, staggering, as the old joke has it, like a drunk in a broken rhythm from one bar to the next. Never mind the whirling dervishes, spinning in their brightly coloured robes for the tourists. This was the real deal, the passion of a quiet man in touch with a different reality. Rob came to see it as the entry to another level of being, into the presence of an eternal mystery.
These passions were important markers in the change and development of Rob’s understanding of religion and spirituality, from fundamentalist ideas to something much more inclusive. And it was worked out in a way that gave feelings the same kind of status as words. Following your passions can have its problems, and they need to be faced, but it is a long sight better than following someone else’s passions, especially when they are flavoured with a dose of ‘or else’.
Don Meadows is one of the founders of Eremos. This is an extract from his eulogy to Rob at his Memorial Service, held on January 27 at the family home in Mortlake, Sydney. Don’s was one of several eulogies. Another was given by Wayne Hooper and you will find this in the April issue of EREMOS magazine.
Rob, this country you love remembers you.
She recalls your pride in knowing her,
your patience in learning her ways.
Country knows the tread of your boots in a hard dry place,
your choosing places to boil a billy or pitch a tent,
your admiring gaze across desert skies at day’s end.
You were grounded in her.
The country you called home now calls you home.
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