For the last few weeks I’ve been wearing a lovely watch: a Tudor Oyster Prince from 1961 with the coveted large rose on the dial. I haven’t worn a watch since my veterinary days ended 15 or so years ago. Back then a watch was a required implement for measuring beats, drips, breaths and most importantly when I could bolt the door, run to my car and escape the circus for the day. When I shed that career, I also shed the watch, maybe symbolically but more likely because I just took it off one day and realised I had no need to put it on again.
My father bought this watch in 1961 as a young man in his hometown of Rockhampton, Queensland. He wore it through his courtship and marriage of the local ABC newsreader the next year, their move to Brisbane, birth of two sons and matriculation as adult students into Queensland University (where he won the University Medal). He wore it at the start of his career in the early 70s as one of the founding lecturers at Griffith University and through his numerous field trips into North Queensland where he conducted his seminal anthropological field work with the Aboriginal people of Cape York, living out of a swag for months on end with his trusty .303 providing for him.
At some point in the mid 90s, after 30 years of service, the watch stopped working so Dad, never one to spend on himself, put it in a drawer and made do with a cheap quartz replacement. It became one of the holy relics of our family, pulled out every few years for a viewing at the request of his children, or more lately, grandchildren, along with the framed newspaper proclaiming Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar and the piece of the Stinson aeroplane which he had filched from the crash site in the 50s.
Early last year I had the watch repaired and restored in time for his 84th birthday. He was absolutely thrilled and for the first few weeks rang me each night to tell me how few seconds it had lost that day.
Dad died in late November just a day before my own birthday. He had been in seemingly great health for someone his age, both physically and mentally, but on his routine annual blood test something was suspected, then confirmed and eight weeks later he was gone. He gave me the watch from his hospital bed a few days before he passed, so I ordered a black fabric strap to best replicate the one from my childhood memories and I’ve worn the watch every day since.
I have so many mental imprints of this watch from my childhood, strapped to his tanned, strong arm as he picked me up and carried me to bed, or drenched in sweat as he battled with the lawnmower, or engulfed in flames as he lit the BBQ in the back yard. It looks a bit out of place transplanted to my own arm (not quite as tanned, not quite as strong), but it’s very comforting nonetheless.
Just a few weeks before he was diagnosed we had taken a road trip back to Rockhampton, the first time either of us had spent much time there since the last of the grandparents died in the late 90s. I filmed him for a couple of days as we visited the locations of his past, with him delivering perfect monologues to camera as if he was back in the lecture theatre.
He showed me where he bought the watch (now a bridge pylon in the city centre) and I can see it there glinting on his arm as I edit the footage these few months later, a fine watch and a fitting reminder of a kind and wonderful father.