Today I wanted to share some stories about Dad. While they are not necessarily stories you may be familiar with, since each of us has our own personal experiences with Noel Beard, I am sure you will find some common ground.
Each of us fearfully and wonderfully made by God, and Noel Beard was no different. In fact, he was especially fearfully and wonderfully made. So I would like to share with you some words which I believe describe his character.
He was kind, he was generous, he was a hard worker, he had a larrikin sense of humour that was cheeky and, at times, a little strange and surprising.
He was stubborn and had thick skin, a tough hide, and he took criticism like water off a duck's back. He didn't bother too much if people thought ill of him. He also loved to chat, and he would often find the person in a room who was the most different from himself and start up a conversation with them.
He was a faithful man. Faithful to his family and his mates. He loved a cup of tea – perhaps too much!
He loved his wife Mary.
He was a follower of Jesus.
Today I wanted to share some stories about Dad, and in them, I am confident you will recognise the Noel we knew, the Noel we loved.
To evidence these things about my Dad, I would like to share five stories of my personal experiences with my Dad. I trust that in them, you will see the man that you loved. Before relating each of these anecdotes, I would like to just list them out for you.
1. Noel Beard, the gentleman farmer
2. Noel Beard, the coach,
3. Noel Beard, the test cricketer,
4. Noel Beard, the political storm trooper and
5. The Eleventh Hour
Noel, the gentleman farmer
As you all know, Noel was a hard-working man. On the farm in Glenorie, he spent his life farm growing peaches, plums, nectarines, tomatoes and many other vegetables. As children, my brothers and sister and I spent our holidays picking fruit, pruning peach trees and many other labours.
We especially remember the beautiful peach blossoms in spring that seemed to envelop Glenorie with their fragrance and colour.
The thing about my Dad – the gentleman farmer, he was very kind to his workers. Each day on the farm, at about 9.00 am, one (or both) would disappear and return to our farmhouse and prepare morning tea for our workers.
The workers would be out in the fields, suffering extreme heat (or cold), often covered in peach fuzz or sweat and dirt. At about 9:15am, the workers might catch a glimpse of a figure slowly but surely emerging from the peach tree foliage.
A man would be labouring under the weight of a large oval-shaped orange coloured bucket with white handles.
In the bucket, there was freshly brewed tea and freshly made tomato sandwiches – which my Mum had lovingly made in the kitchen of our home. In great expectation of the promise of the treats within, the workers would rejoice as the site of the orange bucket.
So my Dad and the workers would upturn buckets, take a load off and drink tea and eat tomato sandwiches. Still, to this day, there is nothing quite like the taste of tomato sandwiches and a cup of tea – especially if enjoyed under the share of a peach tree.
These memories are very special to me as they showed Dad’s kindness. As did the occasion when my Dad had to fire (sack) one of his workers. It nearly broke his heart. He struggled, having to send this person away. It really troubled him greatly.
And, of course, by 3:15 in the afternoon, the workers were suffering after a hard day's work. Again this shadowy figure would emerge from the rows of peach trees – orange bucket in hand full of tea, biscuits or freshly baked cakes my Mum made. He and Mary were kind and the workers really loved him for it.
Noel – the coach
Dad and I shared an immense love of a game of cricket – both of unrequited test cricketers never donning the baggy green – we dreamt of dreamt secretly and not so secretly.
In the mid-1980s, I played cricket for the Glenorie under 16’s, and our team needed a coach. My Dad volunteered. Of course, I was filled with terror because my Dad could be embarrassing – especially to a teenager. I was both excited and terrified of what it would mean.
Early in the season, Dad was still coming to terms with his responsibilities as a coach. Ever the hard-working farmer, Dad had forgotten that practice day had arrived. No doubt he and Mum were packing peaches, and he was suddenly reminded, “Noel, you’ve got to get up to the Oval – cricket practice… you’re going to miss it!”
My Dad didn’t really seem to mind what people thought of him, and so he jumped into the old Bedford truck and headed off. Many of you will remember that rickety, filthy, old red Bedford flatbed truck he used to drive around Glenorie. Well, he jumped in that truck and raced to the Glenorie Oval.
Meanwhile, my teammates and I had walked down to the Oval, waiting probably impatiently for the Coach to arrive. Shortly after, and to my horror, I see the old Bedford truck flying into the gates of the oval and then barrel its way around the outside of the ground towards the practice nets. “Dad!! Oh No!! Why couldn’t he drive the car! Why the truck? So embarrassing.
This teenage boy nightmare did not end there! The Bedford truck comes to a screeching halt, and Dad jumps out. Now at the time (mid 1980s), you will remember Cliff Young – the long-distance runner. This Victorian farmer won the Sydney to Melbourne ultra-marathon – famously having trained in his gumboots. So I'm waiting there for my larrikin Dad to jump out of this truck. And what was he wearing? His filthy old King Gee shorts, a grubby old t- shirt covered in peach fuzz and his gumboots!
I shrank with embarrassment.
The great part of this story, of course, was from that day, on all the boys in the cricket team gave Dad a new nickname. “Cliffy”
He was forever after known as that Cliffy. He loved that the boys were cheeky; he loved that the boys were irreverent.
In cricket, I did frustrate him, too, though. I was a hothead. I always wanted to hit the bowler for six. He was a patient man and wanted to bat all the way through the innings. He always commented (even in the last period of his life) that I would have done far better by being more patient.
Noel Beard the Test Cricketer
My third story is about Noel Beard, the test cricketer. “Really did Noel play Test Cricket”? No, he didn’t, or did he? Noel Beard, Noel Beard, Noel Beard, Noel Beard, Noel Beard
Dad and I shared a time that is a very special day in 1991 at the Ashes Test Match in Sydney. At the time, Dad was an SCG Member, which was something he was very proud of. At the Test Match, we sat in the Members stand, not the old section, rather the new section at the Randwick end.
We sta there all day and watched Bruce Reid, the left-arm quick terrorize the English batsmen. We sat right above/behind the bowler; we could see the ball kicking off the dirt, terrifying the hapless Englishman. Bruce Reid was in his prime.
As a Member, you could wander around the back of the old Members stand and watch the player practising in the nets. I don't know if it is still the case, but you could watch the players warm-up. May you remember the English bowler Phil de Frietas? Well, he was by himself, padded up and facing bowling from a bunch of 10-year olds.
Now Dad, who was always one to have a go. He picked up a ball, and he joined the other 10- year-olds in the queue to bowl to this Test cricketer. I was about 20 then – full of the arrogance of a 20-year-old. I was a bit shocked, a bit embarrassed about what was to come.
Well, Dad loosened up his shoulder a little… and joined cue of would be test bowlers. You see Dad, could on occasion, bowl a mean leg-break. He could turn the ball almost sideways – almost like Shane Warne.
Phil de Frietas sees Noel. Noel Beard trots in and lets loose the biggest, back-of-the-wrist ripping leg break he can muster. The ball flys through the air and hits the ground…
Of course, at this point, you are probably thinking that this delivery was akin to one Shane Warne delivered some years later to Mike Gatting. Where Gatting was bowled out – around the back of his legs…
Sadly for Noel Beard, there was not such bamboozling. Phil de Frietas nonchalantly dispatched the delivery. Dad had hoped, I think to deceive de Frietas – to bowl out a Test cricketer. But was he sad? No. For just a small moment, he achieved a small slice of an unrequited dream of playing test cricket. He was grinning from ear to ear.
This showed that he was not only cheeky and audacious, he was also thick-skinned and a little bit silly.
Noel Beard , the political stormtrooper
In the case of this particular story, I was not present. My Mum shared this story with me, which I trust you will enjoy.
As you know, Dad was very involved in the Liberal Party. All of his life, he was very concerned about conservative values, and this was something I greatly admired about him.
During election time, the Liberal Party often needed people to hand out voting information at the most challenging opposition polling booths. They sought volunteers with the temerity and good humour to take on some of the most formidable opponents to the Liberal cause.
There was this occasion when Mum and Dad were handing out how to vote cards at a polling booth somewhere out in the Labour heartland. Dad was on the booth, opposing a chap who held high office in the trade union movement. He loved this kind of challenge.
Evidently, this humourless union chap gave Dad grief all day. Rude comments, snide remarks, all kinds of ridicule. Dad stood there all day and took it in good spirit; I’m sure of course, the man couldn’t get under Dad’s skin – it was hard to do that.
At some point, the man said to him in a very sarcastic, cruel fashion: “Well what patriotic songs do you know, mate?”
My Dad could have said Waltzing Matilda, Advance Australia Fair or some other thing. But..he replied with “Jesus loves me”. Surprising, audacious, cheeky.
After the close of the polling booth, Dad and the Union chap were acting as scrutineers of the vote count. Something had changed. The humourless Union chap was no longer hard, cynical, angry, sat with Dad and was kind to him. In Noel’s strange and surprising way, he disarmed the man with his simple, gentle and disarming nature.
The 11th Hour
My final story for this morning is, and I think, is my favourite.
In the last weeks of Dad’s life, while he was still in hospital and still conscious, I sat and read with him. On one occasion I opened Matthew’s Gospel and began reading Chapter 20.
In this Chapter, Matthew records the words of Jesus as he spoke a parable of the farmer – who needed works for the harvest.
The farmer enters the town square at the start of the day to find the workers. Some men came. A bit later in the day the farmer needs more workers and returns to hire more.
Still later in the day, more workers are needed and the farmer returns to hire more. Then later in the – at the 11th hour of the day the farmer went to the square and there were still men waiting to work and he said: “What are you doing here, come and work, come and work”.
At the end of the day, the farmer was tallying up the wages. Jesus says that that farmer chose to pay the workers the same – a full days pay. The ones who had only worked an hour were paid the same as those who had worked all day. The full measure of the farmer’s grace…
After reading Jesus’ words, and I asked Dad: “What do you think of that story, Dad? Dad replied: “Wouldn’t it be great to pay your workers the same”.
So today folks as you reflect on your time with Noel Beard, know that he is with Christ Jesus.
Throughout his life, Noel Beard struggled with his faith – he struggled to own his faith, struggled to express it. But in the 11th hour of his life, just like the worker who came late, he was rewarded in full measure with the riches that await all of us should we put our faith and trust in the risen Christ Jesus.
So I encourage you to enjoy today and be joyful.
We are sad because we miss him. We are sad because we don’t get to spend time with him until another time, but know that we have the hope that is the resurrection of Christ Jesus and these are not just empty words.
We believe that when we leave this mortal coil we go to be with Him.
Know that when my Father passed from this world, he opened his eyes to witness Jesus Christ – to touch the scar in his Jesus’ hand. The very scar that was nailed to the cross – to bear the weight of Noel’s sin, your sin and my sin.
To conclude, I would like to think that even now, the God of all Creation, Jesus Christ himself, is showing my Dad how to rip a perfect leg break – to swing one around the back legs of Phil de Frietas, Mike Gatting or whoever it might be where he is.
Know that we pray that you would know Christ and be with him – even as Noel Beard is… this very hour.