Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Farewell my beautiful friend

At my 21st

I met Bruce in 1982. 

A week before I met him, I was sitting in a 120 seat lecture theatre at RMIT, in first year civil engineering. The lecturer was writing relentlessly on the four panel blackboard, with all the students just copying down his notes verbatim, for the horrendously tedious two hour duration of the class. In the midst of this bored morass of people, I saw two guys who were joking around and laughing uproariously. They looked like they were having a ball, while everybody else looked like they wanted to gouge out their eyes with knitting needles. I made up my mind that next week during this class, I was going to be sitting next to those two guys. And so it was that I clocked Bruce. I made it happen the following lecture and the ensuing weeks’ classes for this subject involved games of pen car races and flick golf, the three of us oblivious to the ramblings of the lecturer, too busy in our own hilarity. And laughter was a common thread of our relationship for more than 30 years. We spent hours in the music room at RMIT listening to Monty Python and Cheech and Chong. Occasionally cutting the sessions short for a couple of Cheech and Chongs of our own. In fact classes seemed pretty secondary in those years of uni. We discovered that we had a radar like telepathy as partners in the card game 500 and were rarely beaten in the many hours spent in the RMIT coffee shop. I eventually worked out that engineering wasn’t for me and moved on into the IT world. Bruce on the other hand, seemed to have an aptitude for design and graduated as a civil engineer.

The dual premiership Moutofits
Around this time, Bruce discovered the didgeridoo. He’d had a fascination with it and one day just picked one up in a shop and could immediately get the right sound. I’d just started to play the guitar and Bruce wasn’t yet even able to circular breathe. But that didn’t stop us. With a group of other novice musicians with a similar lack of mastery over their instruments, we ambitiously decided to form The Band From Outofit. This was Bruce’s first musical ensemble and while our musicality may have been questionable, our enthusiasm was hearty. We regularly busked on Friday evenings in the Bourke Street mall and if we made enough money to finance a bit of a party that night, then it was considered a huge success. Eventually our band added a few more party people to our line-up, abandoned the musical venture altogether and morphed into a mixed indoor cricket team called The Band From Outofit Play Cricket or, because that wouldn’t fit on the scoresheet, The Moutofits. This was a much more successful endeavour and in our first two seasons we won back-to-back premierships. Bruce was our keeper, taking it on because nobody else would and handling it with aplomb. With the bat he came to be known in our team as Gibraltar. Solid as a rock. Completely reliable. And this pretty much epitomised Bruce to a tee. He was as solid and reliable a person as I’ve ever known. He embodied the qualities that I value highest in people. Respect. Loyalty. Strength of character. He loved a good argument. Generous of spirit. And laughter filled.

Jazzy's Australianisation Cermony
Hava Nagilah on didge & slide guitar
Having become sufficiently more competent on the didge over this time (he could even circular breathe by now), Bruce went on to play in the band Big Wide Sky and was on his way to a career in music. He played at our wedding accompanied by Jock on guitar, prompting my father to say that he thought it was the first time that Hava Nagilah had ever been played on the didgeridoo. Tori and I moved to the UK in 1995 and around that time Bruce began touring Europe as a do it all didgeridoo man. He was playing concerts, teaching people how to play, selling his finely crafted didges and even teaching others how to make their own. He came to visit us in England a couple of times (I even managed to rope him into helping us move house on one of those occasions) and I got to the Berlin Didge Festival twice, as well as to the legendary Swizzeridoo festival in the hills outside of Zurich. Amidst the partying that went on whenever we met up, I came also to learn how much of a celebrity Bruce was in the international didgeridoo scene. He was comfortable and highly respected among the didgeridoo legends such as Charlie McMahon, Alan Dargin and Mark Atkins. He had many fans and he featured in internationally produced didge books and magazines. He even had his own character in a French didgeridoo comic book story. Very importantly, Bruce was always a strong advocate by his actions and words for reconciliation with Indigenous Australia. He valued the culture that the didge came from and was always highly respectful. In turn he was respected highly by Indigenous didge players, a number of whom played instruments made by Bruce in international concerts. He spread the word on Indigenous issues and helped bring a better understanding and level of empathy of this important issue to those around him. This continued on more recently when he had a regular gig on a cruise ship between Australia and New Zealand, where he would play concerts and present to the audience on the instrument and Aboriginal culture.

Exchanging vows
One of many dinners
The one constant I haven’t mentioned so far in this thread is Lynne. I met Bruce in 1982 and they were already a couple. I had the honour of being a part of their bridal party in 1990 when they got married and gave a speech that day in front of many of the same people who are here today. Clearly that was a much happier time. I’d just started going out with Tori and pursuaded Bruce and Lynne into letting me bring her to the wedding. Bruce told me then that he could see that I was serious about this girl and said of course she can come. Over the years since, the four of us have spent many great times together. Shared many experiences and had a lot of fun. From the Glastonbury Festival in the UK, to running around as naked mud people at Confest. To just having dinner and lounging at each other’s houses. Over the last 11 months, Lynne has been Gibraltar. Solid as a rock for Bruce. Always by his side. Always filled with cheeriness and positivity even when things looked at their most bleak. Full of love. Never has the fulfilment of vows given on a wedding day been more absolute and completely delivered.

Glastonbury 1997
Bruce died on July 18th, which is my birthday. A few people have expressed to me sympathy that my “special day” was tarnished by such a sad event, but I actually look at it differently. While the day that his death occurred was undeniably devastating, going forward it means that I will always be thinking of Bruce on that day each year. I will always have a toast to your life mister and the great times that we shared together.

Vale Bruce Rogers. My beautiful friend.