I did think I had finished my research on Colin Dryden, but this week I received an email from Jean Memery, with the attached collection of stories from the residents of Beechworth in Victoria, from the time that Colin spent there before departing Australia in 1986. I have only included the stories shared by those who have passed on, or who have given permission for their words to be shared.
(Content below, as provided by Jean, more to come as permission is obtained)
I first met Colin at Colleen Millerd’s little brick house in Albury and she assures me it was 1980 because she still had her panel van then. Colleen was a devotee of the Albury Folk club and it was probably there or at one of the neighbouring folk festivals that she met Colin and gave him a room to camp in. At the time Colleen was a hard- working Psych nurse at the mental hospital in Beechworth and Colin’s lifestyle became an irritant. She remembers Colin, in an inexplicable fit of pique, drunkenly damaging her van, possibly at Nariel Folk Festival. Much as she loved his singing and respected his deep knowledge of so many songs, it was time to move him on. Steve and Fred came to her rescue and brought Colin to Steve’s red-roofed house, known as Southfork, in Stanley. (We were addicted to Dallas at the time).
Steve McGuffie’s Story
Stanley is a little village up a winding road in the hills about six miles from Beechworth. Colin stayed at various camps along this road over the years before he left. Steve, an electrician by trade, was a party animal, the town stud for many years, pub patron and had been a talented Aussie Rules footballer. His house was welcoming and he had a good heart and a finely tuned sense of humour. My favourite McGuff story about Colin was when Colin’s fiddle was smashed to smithereens, probably run over by accident. Steve gathered the pieces together and reassembled the jigsaw with superglue. Good as new!
Peter Goonan’s Story
Beechworth’s pub culture was, and possibly still is, legendary: four pubs for a town of 3,500 and the Stanley pub was noteworthy for its wild publican, former milkman, nicknamed John Silver, probably for his silver hair. He sometimes had cricket matches from the bar and out into the street. In this rich mix, Colin met Peter Goonan, another psych nurse and bon vivant. Peter lived along the Stanley road, closer to Beechworth, in a house where a woman had been murdered by her partner’s cranky son, in the chookhouse, to be precise, hence the names the Homicide Hilton or Murder Mansion. Colin was a good fit and Peter had wheels and a thirst.
One night, Peter had to supervise a ward on night shift and he didn’t have time to drive Colin home so he took Colin to work. Peter recalls that Colin was more trouble, wanting a drink, than all the patients and staff combined, all night. Pete was very happy to ‘discharge’ Colin the next morning!
Peter was renowned as the chief wrangler of the Free ‘N’ Sleazy, an anarchic open mic session, very different from the current sedate versions. Everyone got equal treatment and time and I remember one professional outfit who wanted to monopolise the stage. Peter rattled his tambourine at them, sent them off (in high dudgeon) and enthusiastically welcomed the worst singer in the world to thunderous applause! Colin was equally well-received and he seemed to enjoy playing with anyone who cared to join in. He loved variety and gave everyone’s performance his close attention, including old Ray, who could render Waltzing Matilda unrecognisable.
When Peter’s lady, known to us as Dolly Partner, insisted that Colin be moved on, Peter arranged for him to stay at Peter Fartusczinski’s shed, still along the Stanley road, and checked that he was warm and fed. A few rabbits perhaps…
Kissy was another Psych nurse and pub patron: Free ‘N’ Sleazy at the Commercial, lock-ins at the Nick, spit and sawdust at the Empire and fluorescent lighting at the Hibernian, which made us all look like corpses. Much has now been swept away in a wave of gentrification. Kissy fondly recalls Peter’s big old red flatbed truck, with Colin on the back to mind the beer as they speared off to another party. One night Kissy saw Peter take a corner too sharply and Colin fell off but the beer survived… and Colin was none the worse for wear.
Ewan Paterson’s Story
Dr Ewan Paterson was the town’s dentist, a town councillor, Labor Party stalwart and a hobby farmer who hosted ratbag cricket matches in summer. He was worried by Colin’s missing teeth so made him a set of false teeth. One Easter as we walked up to see the Golden Horseshoes Festival parade, we spotted Colin come flying out of the Empire bar and hit the deck. We rushed over to check if his false teeth were broken but he’d wisely stored them in his pocket. No harm done.
Jack and Jai Smith’s Story
When they weren’t moving around the country, my brother, Jack and his son, Jai, lived in my childhood home in Beechworth. They regaled us with the story of coming home to the sound of the shower running. Jack blamed Jai and rushed in to turn it off, only to be confronted by Colin, lathered up in all his glory. Harmony was restored. Jack was particularly fond of Turning Steel because when he moved to Melbourne he worked in a metal-spinning business. Jai remembers Colin at one of his kiddy birthday parties but is not sure if Colin sang for him amid the paddock cricket, beer, food and a spectacular dogfight!
Marie Coombe is Peter Goonan’s older sister and my old bridesmaid. She’s a gentle and generous soul and remembers Colin coming to her house for a shower and to wash his clothes. As Marie says, the house was full of grog but Colin never touched it and remained steadfastly sober for his visits. She also loved his singing at her nephew’s wedding.
For most of Colin’s time around the area I lived in a little brick cottage in Last Street: the Last Resort. Jack Smith and I used to host the Waifs and Strays Christmas. This became so popular that we had to ban refugees from family Christmases until after 4pm. Colin was a founding member of this event. He also regularly attended St Patrick’s Day parties and from time to time stayed in a spare room, either the Dollies’ Room or the Spiders’ Room. Once he rolled up on the kitchen floor in a freshly washed doona, which made me rant and rave, only to find him vehemently defended by little Jai. On my birthday I remember Colin’s present of a bracket of songs at the Albury Folk Club. Some mean-spirited souls put him last on the programme and then tried to incapacitate him with drink but Colin resisted and delivered a wonderful performance.
Looking at the very few photos of Colin from those days, I began to realise that except when onstage, he was a self-effacing man and an observant bystander. He was gently amused by our antics, like the Cops and Robbers party for Ewan’s and my birthday at the Stanley hall with outrageous fancy dress, or the tragic scenes when we flew home penniless in Jack Tully’s light plane from far-flung country horse races. I like to think that those years were a happy time for Colin.
Back to the start of the Factory Lad story here.