Memoir of William H. Gunn
“A Goondiwindi Ringer” is the real-life story of one man who went from riding the open plains of Australia as a Ringer with the mob, to creating a multi-million dollar company in corporate America . . .
A GOONDIWINDI RINGER
A Memoir – Introduction
I had always had an affinity for the Australian bush, a deep admiration for a young, rugged country where people were made strong, where toughness and determination were instilled into our characters. Looking back at such a young age, my youth and the simplicity of living on a sheep and cattle station prevented me from fully appreciating that I was being raised by one of Australia’s giants . . .
Remembering back so far, I find it funny that the first people who come to mind are the town’s nurse and doctor. They presided over all family births and were responsible for the medical treatment of the entire village. The hospital consisted of a small wooden building that sat unobtrusively by the side of the MacIntyre River. I still associate my childhood ailments with the nurse who was a very caring dedicated woman. The doctor himself was quite a character in as much as he never prepared or sent bills to anyone in the town. Rich or poor, everyone went to him. The doctor never asked for payment instead, he placed a cup in the waiting area where, if possible, patients would put in a few shillings, or whatever they could afford.
From a very young age, I knew that my father was very prominent in the town—he was like the King of the town and district. He was a person who was always navigating the waters of public scrutiny and . . . I want to get to all that, but first I want to speak of my grandfather and grandmother—lovingly my roots! My grandfather, Walter Gunn, was a dominant individual in the community; chairman of the district, head of all local government and even the chairman of the horseracing club, which made available lots of fun and enjoyment for my siblings and me. My grandfather was tremendously successful, he left school at an early age, his father had no money but did have some prominence. Grandfather was entirely a self-made man. He was a “Drover” and first made his money by trading sheep, that enabled him to buy up land and properties.
In 1934 my grandparents purchased a raw sheep station, which remained in the family for 69 years. The property was turned over in World War Two for use as a hospital for the troops. My grandparents moved into town to a much smaller house for the duration of the war, and they returned when the war ended. So, I have no real recollection of them never being at the sheep station. I always called him grandfather and he was the patriarch of the town, the boss of all social events, the organizer. He gained lots of respect from the community.
When poor immigrants came to town he would help them get jobs as sheep shearers, they were impoverished people and sadly the well to do citizens in the district would have nothing to do with them. My grandfather would give them blankets, and sometimes a sheep to eat for food. I remember accompanying him. He was like a one-man welfare dept. But, don’t get me wrong, he didn’t do it kindly, he was most demanding. He would never allow anyone to sit on his bum—they had to work to get his respect, repaying the generosity with hard work. He also helped the Australian Aborigine, who was being badly treated during that time. An Aborigine community lived in a mission station almost opposite our sheep station.
My Grandmother was as equally dominating; she ran all the various women’s affairs around the district. Granny, as I called her, was incredibly intimidating and very self-possessed . . . A woman way before her time. She had no respect for being told to keep her place, which women were expected to do in those days, she was generations ahead of the average woman, continually defying any conventional practices. She was also a spendthrift and probably wasn’t a good mother, always tricky, I think it was her sister who raised my father.
What a character—ornery and indomitable, and for years spent her time as a horseracing enthusiast. I remember when she was in her eighties or nineties I was called to her deathbed. I must have been thirty at that time. Well, when I got there I was told that she had taken herself to the races, yes that’s what she had done, and then came home and quietly died.
Now, my mum was my whole world, she was the authority figure, and Mr. Big was my grandfather. I don’t remember a close relationship with my grandfather; he was distant, not kindly, always doing things because they needed to be done. He was a good man. I remained in awe of him, just as I did my father.
My great grandfather may have been one of the first members of parliament, also my grandfather on my mother’s side. Public service and community affairs were prevalent in our family. The Gunn families were sheep farmers and civil servants until I came along and changed all that. My father eventually became known to some as a personal hero, but to others, he earned the reputation of a villain. I’ll talk more about him and the big footprint he planted in Australian history throughout this memoir. I’m sure he will come up consistently.
When I revert, however, to those very early days, my father’s life was forever changed when a severe near fatal accident destroyed the use of his left hand, a fact that people who subsequently met him often failed to detect. Before the accident, I remember him fighting bushfires, having teams of men going out. I remember being fearful of the fires burning our house down.
My father was the epitome of physical fitness he could run and jump any fence; he held the high jump record in school. He could jump fences where other people would need to open gates to go through. He was always the presiding physical member of the group; cut logs, lifted anything, displaying a commanding personality in whatever he did. He had been a well-established athlete, all those physical attributes that you see your father do is most impressive, comparative to other people. Yet for me, he was a distant figure, but even today I will always remember him for his physical prowess.
An Event that would Dramatically Change my Life . . .
I remember like it was yesterday, my father’s horrific accident. It is hallmarked in my mind. I was quite young—probably eight or nine, my sisters and I were in this little room we used as a classroom, and our governess was teaching us. My mum came into the room acting nervous and panicked, she had received the shocking news that my father had been badly hurt. She needed to leave, fly out to be with him. She had never flown in an airplane before, and this was a big deal to have something like that sprung on you, she was in a frenzy. It was all very dramatic, and I remember that we were left not knowing whether our father would live or die. Life had been mellow and straightforward on a sheep station for us as a family, we had never been exposed to any kind of tragedy.
The day of the accident, my father had been attending another town meeting, when he inadvertently placed his hand on what he thought was a wall for support, but he had lent on a plate glass window. Being a big man 6ft 3ins and weighing 240lb, the weight caused the glass to break, and in that instant trying to maintain balance he tripped, his hand fell right through the plate glass severely cutting numerous tendons and veins.
The family journey that would subsequently follow was enormous but would demonstrate over the coming years what place God had carefully carved out for my father. From the loss of his vast physical capacities, meant a distinct redirection of his efforts, and that led him to an extraordinary life in public service. He quickly went from being a tough property station worker, who could physically outrun or outlift anyone, to a property owner whose station work became impossible to do with one hand.
My father must have only been 30-years-old when the accident happened. He had lost the use of his hand, but amazingly I don’t remember him ever being traumatized by the incident, or ever feeling sorry for himself. My recollection was that it was something he just got on with—and got on with it he did! When I look back, what a great lesson for a pre-teenage kid to be witness to . . .