“While you are in Oz, Mate, why don’t you see if you can find Brian Bright?” I was now in touch with Kevin O’Connell in New Zealand and the plan was to spend a couple of weeks with him there before heading back to South Africa. We had both known Brian from London, 1969; a loyal friend – someone to ride the river with, as Louis Lamour used to say. There were not many clues, though.
He was about the same age as us. Therefore high school +/- 1960-1964?
He went to school in Echuca.
So, as soon as I had booked into The Nomads Oasis Backpackers in Echuca on 8th October 2004, I went to the Echuca High School. The headmaster, Paul Hon, 37, was most kind and helpful to look back in the school year-books. A Cheryl Bright had attended the school in the early ‘60s, who might be a sister to Brian, but no Brian. He suggested I try the Echuca Technical School, as St. Joseph’s Catholic School didn’t seem promising.
Weirdly, the Tech had once been housed in the very same building that now had The Nomads Oasis Backpackers in which I was going to spend the night. I had not even noticed the old bas relief sign over the door. The school had moved to a bigger site a few blocks away. However, the vice-head, Steve Doxey, was unable to find the attendance records of the relevant years. He, and other teachers, were hurriedly trying to set the school up as a voting station for the following day’s elections, so were not able to pursue the matter.
Just as I was thinking that I had hit a dead end, Paul Hon phoned to say that he had contacted a local citizen who was also our age and could confirm that Brian had indeed attended the Echuca Technical School. He suggested that I try The Riverine Herald.
At The Riv, as it was popularly known, Christine Chudley, the Editor/Journalist, was enthusiastic to help. She suggested that I contact a Joan Mitchell of the Historical Society. From The Riv offices, I phoned Joan who was able to tell me that there had been a Bright family living at Mathoura, a community about 25km north of Echuca in New South Wales. The words “had been” were a letdown, until she said that one of the sisters, also Joan, had married locally and was now Joan White, now living in Hare Street. It did sound a bit like a washing soap advert; and Joan laughed when I was so bold, or rude, as to say so.
Christine Chudley was startled. She too lived in Hare Street, just a little way from Joan White, and knew her. I spoke to Joan on the phone and she then gave me Brian’s number! He was then managing a caravan park in the village of Erica, near Moe in Victoria. Naturally, he was very cagey to start with. When I gave him my name and mentioned London, 1969, he was quiet for a moment then said:
“You and Barrett wrote The Big Dry. I’ve still got a copy, somewhere.”
Christine arranged for me to meet Joan at her house the next day at 09h00. She would bring a photographer and write a little story about my quest to find Brian.
And so we did. What a delightful person was Joan White! We had a picture taken in her colourful garden – I’m sorry that it is in monochrome. I was to be told that another of their sisters was the popular Australian novelist, Joy Dettman. I have since read and thoroughly enjoyed Henry’s Daughter, a wonderful tale about a family of kids who wall up their mum to get her to lose weight!
I caught up with Brian in Erica later, a special visit, and we are still in touch by mobile text, usually when the Springboks play the Wallabies…