A Tribute to the Big Rig

Family portrait

My name is Daniel Lynch, and I am privileged to be Roland’s Brother in Law and mate. I speak today on Roland’s family’s behalf, reflecting on a beautiful man and a wonderful life.

Anne Brennan married Lieutenant Rick Davies in January 1975, and celebrated the arrival of 3 beautiful children – Jessica in 1978, Roland in 1980, and Gerwyn in 1985.

Right from day one, Roland loved the company of others. So much so that as a baby, he was near on impossible to entertain or keep quiet, unless he was being held, especially by Anne who eventually purchased a pouch, in which she would carry Roland as she tended to her daily duties. As Jess and I battled to settle one of our children, Anne once told me of shutting all the windows in the house, due to Roland’s crying, for fear of what the neighbours might think – then she discovered the pouch, and order was restored.

Roland was born in Toowomba, and with Rick’s work leading to numerous moves for the family, the kids attended several schools.

Rols began kindy in Toowoomba, at St Thomas More in 1985, followed by Year 1 at St Kevin’s in Benowa in 1986. Already, Roland’s love of entertaining the masses began, and he and Jess dually enlisted in the St Kevin’s choir. Unfortunately for Rols’, the choir teacher didn’t share his enthusiasm for his voice. Jess vividly remembers during choir practice the teacher, mid song, questioning “what is that terrible noise!?”, stalking the front row of 5 year olds trying to discover the source. Jess knew it would be Roland but he was oblivious, still belting out ‘train whistle blowin’ with gusto. Later, Rols was asked to simply mouth the words to the songs, rather than sing them! His talent in front of an audience though was recognized later that year when he was cast as Prince Charming in the end of year production. He was so chivalrous that he insisted on kissing Sleeping Beauty only on the hand to awaken her!

Next stop was Oakey, where Roland loved life on the army base, playing so freely with his siblings, and the other kids from the base. Roland attended St Monica’s until 1989, and having previously been blacklisted from the choir, he turned his artistic skills to the Bicentenary Art Competition, which he unbelievably won! Despite this being achieved in 1988, he was still very willing to tell anyone who would listen that he was in fact the only accredited and acknowledged artist in the family! Even as Gerwyn’s career has blossomed, Roland maintained this view.

Whilst in Oakey, Roland also began competitive swimming for the Oakey Swimming Club, famously achieving his PB in the breast stroke, with a broken collar bone!

From Oakey, the family were again on the move, this time to Gosford, living in Saratoga, where Rols attended St Patrick’s. Here Roland became a keen fisherman, and in true Roland style, the stories of the one that got away were near on news-worthy! It was in Gosford that Rols really began his love of cricket, responding to a newspaper advertisement offering cricket coaching, on the advice of Pop who was visiting at the time. We all know this was the start of a pretty special cricketer. Many years later, in the Downlands College Year Book, the cricket coordinator described Roland, whilst in Year 11, and a member of the First XI as a “right hand batsman who toured England with the Australian Under 15 side. A classical batsman, but failed to convert starts into big scores due to lapses in temperament! Fluent striker of the ball on both sides of the wicket, and should develop into a prolific run scorer next season. Useful slips fielder”. Those of us who have played cricket will know that slip fieldsmen are typically those who have plenty to say to the batsman, and I know Justin will share some stories to that effect a little later.

In 1991, Anne, Rick and the kids were again on the move, this time to Darwin, where Roland attended St Mary’s and then St John’s College. Prior to moving to Toowoomba to board at Downlands College for Years 11 and 12, Roland’s cricket really took off.

His cricket coach, David King, described Roland as a fine young cricketer and person, evident from an early age with his junior cricket performances and representative selections in the Australian Under 17 squad and Australian under 15 School Boys team that toured England. Roland was later made vice captain of the NT U17 side.

Roland’s commitment was exemplary. As vice captain, and by far the best player in the side, Roland was always more concerned by the team’s performance than his own. This is why he was a leader.

In that U17 carnival, as vice captain, Roland finished elite within the leading run scorers, and made the team of the carnival. He missed the last game with a hip injury that he battled through for two games, in one of which scoring a century. A great and early example of his determination.

Roland chose a career in law and later medicine, over cricket, but Kingy held little doubt that he would have played higher level cricket had he chosen to pursue that pathway.

Whilst his cricket took off, more importantly to Roland, it was in Darwin that he established many life long friendships – to that end, I now invite Justin and Aaron to share some of their memories of their great mate.

(Justin and Aaron tell their stories)

Perhaps as a Boarder at Downland’s, Roland may have developed his insatiable appetite for food – any food! If anyone needed their fridge or freezer cleared out, Roland was your man! When Jess and I had our first child, Eliza, Anne and Roland stayed with us for a few weeks, and Anne baked all sorts of treats to be frozen away and used when needed. However, Rols caught wind of this, and on one particular night, emptied our store of several containers of Mars Bar slice, one of his personal favourites. A couple of Easters later, Ruby hid her easter eggs from Uncle Big Rig, but not well enough – he denied eating them, but then when Ruby discovered Easter egg wrappers all through his bed, even for a lawyer, the evidence was hard to argue! Later, his housemates, Hannah and Sarah would hide their freshly baked chocolate biscuits so Rols wouldn’t devour them all in one night. Any steak you cooked Roland was always “the best steak he’d ever eaten”.

He may also have developed his skill of gathering and disseminating items of clothing at this time. If Roland stayed with anyone here, I am sure this story is familiar! Not only did items of clothing, towels and books of his hosts disappear, but they were often replaced with items owned by others, and gathered during his travels. He was a modern day Robin Hood, who would redistribute things, just to keep us all guessing!

Upon his graduation from Downlands, Roland was accepted into a double degree – Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Business through the University of New England in Armidale. After 1 year there, he transferred his study to QUT and relocated to Brisbane. Admitted to the Supreme Court of Queensland and the High Court of Australia as a solicitor, having completed his two years of Articles with Mullins Lawyers, the law came easily to Roland. Soon, he was off to the UK, where he practiced Commercial Law, and perhaps more importantly, travelled.

Roland’s travels were amazing, not just for the countries he visited, but for the relationships he formed. In recent days, we have received messages from all over the world, from people none of us know, including Roland’s Sherpa in Nepal. It was here, whilst on one of his more extreme trips, that Roland fell ill, and ultimately had his appendix removed. This of course became a war story that Roland was only too happy to share, and only weeks ago, Jess was still receiving phone calls from this Sherpa, generally in the middle of the night, in broken English, seeking updates on Roland.

Upon his return from the UK, Rols decided the law wasn’t for him, and instead, turned his attention to the study of medicine. Initially living with Rick and Robyn, and later with Jess, myself and our kids in Adelaide, Roland set about fulfilling this dream. He stumbled at his first attempt at the GAMSAT, which in true Roland style, only made him more determined. He enrolled in a Bachelor of Science, believing this knowledge was the missing ingredient. He wasn’t particularly interested in the lectures or assessments, but the knowledge. Soon after, he sat the GAMSAT for a second time, and was accepted into the Doctor of Medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide.

The legend of Roland only grew during these years. Ever the class clown, Roland studied like no-one I have seen before, and ultimately graduated in 2013. This ceremony was especially important for everyone, especially Roland, as Anne, who had been working as Senior Lecturer at Flinders, was amongst the academic party on stage when he was presented with his parchment.

During this time of studying medicine, Roland lived with two Med Mates, Hannah and Sarah, with their house becoming the epicenter of the cohort, whenever there was fun to be had.

Hannah recalled her early discussions with Sarah, as they sought a suitable housemate. They had one condition, that he did his fair share of the toilet cleaning. Roland wasn’t put off by this, and assured Hannah and Sarah that he would be happy to comply. Maybe they didn’t know he had previously been a lawyer, but after injuring his back, Roland presented a medical certificate and placed it on the window above the sink. The certificate stated “Roland Davies is exempt from all household cleaning duties until further notice”.

Roland, Hannah and Sarah would often sit in the ‘nook’ of their house together after classes and Rols would get them to talk about the highlight of their day. Roland would listen. He saw the best in people and told them often. I am sure that the love, warmth and concern Rols had for his friends grew out of that which he received and gave within his own family. He loved, respected and looked up to his family so much, and would have done anything for them.

Many of his peers studying medicine often joked that he taught himself medicine, taking the study very seriously but often skipping lectures in favour of sitting down with a pile of books at home, reading his way through the content, before aceing the exams.

His self-discipline was formidable.

When they came to legal topics within the degree, Rols spent hours preparing and recording educational podcasts for all the med students to access.

He made friends everywhere, as often with the hospital cleaners as with the registrars, and would get into earnest conversation with anybody, whether in a hospital or a pub. He was genuinely interested in people, non-judgemental, and really good at learning about them. Along with his smarts and his commitment to study, this made him a great doctor – patients would have told him everything.

Part of his study of medicine required placements to Gove and Alice Springs, placements which Roland loved. He enjoyed travelling and meeting the locals, and was a wonderful advocate for them when necessary. He never saw patients as patients, but rather people with a story, that might need his help, and that he might be in the privileged position of responding. Funny, loving and with a disregard for convention, he was a giant among men in this field.

Roland was bigger than life itself – a gentle giant, who could fill a conversation with people he had just met, and have them leave him feeling they’d known him for years. Testament to the man he was is the array of jobs Roland undertook – Cotton picker, abattoir worker, barman, powder coater, surf lifesaver, lawyer, doctor. It didn’t matter what he did, he did it brilliantly, and he formed lasting relationships with all he met.

As a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew, a cousin, a brother in law, an uncle, a godfather and a friend, Roland was one of a kind – generous to a fault, concerned for everyone else over himself, and a wonderful listener. He had enormous love and compassion, and an embrace and a laugh that could solve any problem. In particular, Roland loved his nieces, Eliza and Ruby, and his nephew Ted – and they adored him. They would count the sleeps to his next visit, and when together, they would go on countless excursions together, or he would accompany them to Kinder gym, to school, or whatever else was going on – again, the legend of Roland grew. Eliza, Ruby and Ted affectionately called him Uncle Big Rig, perhaps in part for his stature, but more so for the enormous presence that he always was.

On one of his travels, Rols returned with two bears – one each for Eliza and Ruby. Roland had recorded a message that would boom from within, whenever these bears were cuddled. One bear would say “I love my Uncle Big Rig – he is cool, and funny, and handsome, and everybody loves him”. The other, “I love my Uncle Big Rig, he is cool and handsome, and drinks way more beer than daddy. I love my Uncle Big Rig”. These bears hold pride of place in our girl’s bedrooms.

He was everyone’s best mate! We are all so blessed to have had Rols in our lives.

Rols, Roly, Roland, Uncle Big Rig, we love you and miss you terribly, but know you are with us, in good times and in bad – just as you always were.

Be with your beautiful mother, watch over us, and rest in peace big fella.