Sid Heatley, 1932-2018

Dave’s father Sid died on 15 June. Here is the eulogy that Dave gave at his funeral on 22 June in Hobart, Tasmania.

Losing both parents marks the end of a generation. The word got around quickly… On Tuesday morning a bus driver asked for my Senior’s concession card!

Who was Sid Heatley? He was a quiet man, and a dutiful husband and father. He loved shipping and travel. But that describes rather than defines him. The question of who he was is harder, and made more difficult because he wasn’t a great communicator. Today I’ll relate some things that I think shaped his life, and how I think they affected him.

He was born in Wellington New Zealand in 1932. A child of the Great Depression. His family had a regular income as his father worked for the government department responsible for dole payments! His mother was passionate about painting and tramping – that’s New Zealandish for bushwalking – neither of which she passed on to Sid.

When Sid was around 13 his parents moved to the the South Pacific. His father by then had a senior position in foreign affairs. Sid was left behind at a Wellington boarding school. In longer school holidays he jumped on whatever ship was heading to Samoa, Niue or wherever his parents happened to be. In shorter holidays he worked on the Wellington wharves. These experiences kindled a lifetime interest in shipping and travel.

Sid, a rare only child in that era of big families, and then as a boarder, had a rather lonely childhood. This made him determined to have several children.Sid served his compulsory National Service in the Army Engineering Corps. His favorite stories from that time we’re about blowing up superseded railway bridges! This, and his interest in shipping, encouraged him to study engineering at Victoria University of Wellington.

Unfortunately, this did not go to plan. The combination of working to support himself by day and studying at night took its toll, and Sid failed his second year. It left him resenting his parents for not supporting him financially, frustrated that his own career was limited, and determined his own children would all attend – and graduate from – university. And with his support, and encouragement, we all did so.

Sid met Joan a a New Year’s Eve dance in Wellington in 1958. Joan – a world-wandering Australian of good farming stock – and her mother-in-law-to-be did not gel. Joan agreed to Sid’s proposal with one condition, they were to live in a different country from Sid’s mother.

So Sid emigrated to Australia with his fiancée. It was a different era. As he described it, he arrived Monday, started looking for work Wednesday, had three offers by Friday, chose one and started work the next Monday. He married Joan and enthusiastically joined her rather extended family. But distance and the cost of travel left him isolated from his smaller NZ one.

Sid and Joan quickly had three children and settled in Engadine on the southern outskirts of Sydney. Sid worked for local councils surveying and drafting. All was going well, except that Sid suffered in the Sydney summers. Bad headaches, unrelieved by primitive air conditioning, made him keen to return to New Zealand’s cooler climate. But Joan held him to his agreement. They compromised, moving the family sight unseen to Tasmania in 1970.

Sid had two job offers on arrival. One with the Hobart City Council. The other with the Hydro Electric Commission in Strathgordon. I sometimes wonder how life might have turned out had he taken the second option… He may not have ended up with three fervently anti-dam children!

The family settled in Howrah, making new friends and joining the local church. He quietly demonstrated his version of a good, ethical life. It was hard for Sid to get a word in edgewise with a social wife, three noisy children, and later their partners and grandchildren. He sometimes looked a lonely individual even at social events.

Sid tried hard to pass on his passion for shipping, especially to me. He would take me on tours of ships visiting Hobart. I remember the engine room of a merchant ship, the decks of an aircraft carrier and the inside of a submarine. Seeing the submarine’s tiny, cramped bunks put me off a marine career!

Sid stayed over 20 years with the city council in different roles, including draftsman, contracts officer, and health and safety officer. He was frustrated in late years by the changing workplace, and never adapted to computers.

Retirement gave Sid a new lease of life. He could indulge his love of learning through reading and the university of the third age. And of shipping through volunteering with the maritime museum. He was very proud when the museum awarded him life membership.

Sid and Joan became frequent travelers. Queensland for the winter sun. New Zealand to visit Sue and me. Sydney to see Kerry and Joan’s family. And Europe, North America and other places just because they loved travel.

Sid’s driving was the material of legends. He would slow down approaching green lights, presumably anticipating a change to red. He would then proceed through the intersection at a crawl … even if the lights had changed to red in the meantime. The only saving grace was that his driving was sufficiently bad that other drivers noticed quickly and made allowances.

He was very frustrated after his doctor took away his license. The rest of the family – and no doubt Hobart’s other drivers – breathed a sigh of relief.

Aging was not kind to Sid. After keeping Joan company through her last months, he lost his last purpose. Still he hung on tenaciously to life. The staff at Fairway Rise provided an exceptional level of care.

His death last week was not unexpected. When we heard the news, Sue and I were on a boat off the coast of New Zealand – sharing a tiny, cramped bunk. I think that, had he known, Sid would have had a quiet chuckle.

Joan & Sid


Sid as a young man.

Posted 9 July 2018.