A tribute to...

Ken Gordon Brown

Published: 6/12/2023

"A eulogy for Ken Gordon Brown" spoken on Monday 4th December, 2023

- by Peter Brown, son of Ken Gordon Brown

240 kilometers an hour, the V8 engine rumbling - purring beneath our seats - a small white speck on the horizon. There is nothing quite like the primal roar of a V8 engine. You can feel it in your soul.

"I reckon that might be the coppers, Dad."

Between Alice and Ti Tree there aren't many corners - stop signs or speed limits to slow us down - and young eyes are pretty good.

The deep-blue 1985 Group A Peter Brock Holden Commodore - one of only just 500 made - was eased out into the right-hand lane with plenty of road to spare, probably a click or just over.

Maybe they caught a glimpse of the unbrushed hair and pair of smiling blue eyes barely able to see above the passenger side window. Maybe not. I doubt they caught the grin on Dad's face, even though it was from ear to ear.

It's hard to see much, really, when you get rounded up three times the speed by the "road modified" car that won Bathurst the year before by the King of the Mountain. A Holden, Uncle Russ. They just go better.

The family in Tom Price in 1972
The family in Tom Price in 1972

"You were right, boy, it was the coppers" as they disappeared in the rearview mirror.

Dad's last text to me - a few Mondays back - was a screenshot of number 47 of 500 with the caption "Faaaaaaaark" - the "a" stretching across the full text window on my phone. In '85, it was worth eight grand. 47 was now going for $488,000 on his favourite auction website.

"Fair Dinkum." I texted back.

The reason we were on that high-speed burn back in July of 1985 was every reason why my father was the man he was. One of his truck drivers couldn't read or write but "every bloke needs a go, boy".

Dad had told him to always match the symbols on the paper he'd given him to symbols on the containers he needed to hook up to take his road train to Darwin. Ol' mate's strike rate was great, until it wasn't, beaten by the darkness of a wintery 4am. He had a three-hour head start with a wrong container going in the wrong direction. Dad had the Brock Commodore sitting in the yard and a full tank.

The Brown family on the road to Alice Springs in the early 80s
The Brown family on the road to Alice Springs in the early 80s

Clearly, the long-range radio in the truck wasn't working.

"Let's go for a drive, boy."

If he had the shits, I didn't know. Time is money in the trucking game. We caught the road train just before Barrow Creek, 270km north. Turned him around. The bloke kept his job.

5% heart capacity was all that was left a couple of Wednesdays back.

Dad's heart wasn't failing, it was overflowing.

Overflowing with the love of his wife of 55 years, Bev, his daughters, my sisters, Sue and Cherie, grandkids Josh, Matt, Delanie, Jake and Samara, great grandkids Bodhi, Rory, and Hudson with another on the way. The love for his brothers and sisters Christine, Russell, Sandra, and Gary - love for his mother and father Elsie and Syd. And love for his kids-in-law Ash, Gary, and Jen. All of us have been together for decades.

The family in 2016: Daughter Cherie, Ken, son Peter, daughter Sue and wife Bev
The family in 2016: Daughter Cherie, Ken, son Peter, daughter Sue and wife Bev

Dad's heart was full - the last 5% was his own to spend, 5% for one last lap: Up Mountain Straight, through the Cutting and full bore across Skyline - the top the mountain - down shifting into the Dipper, hard on the brakes into Forrest Elbow and then flat to floor down Conrod. Fat arming it out the window.

The passenger seat, Dad's offsider for 51 years and a bit, was my life's privilege. A full-time passenger until eight or nine, a part time driver until 16 and then a full-time co-driver until the checkered flag. Thousands of kilometres, thousands of days - dirt roads, bitumen, or no roads at all. Thousands of comfortable silences, a thousand lessons: watching and learning how to be a man and a mate.

Patience, understanding, empathy, kindness. What it is to be a "good bloke". Those were my father's lessons, as he lived them, I learned.

He was also teaching me how to walk in two worlds: a boy from the bush who could also wear a suit and tie in the big city.

"Sydney or the bush, boy. Sydney or the bush."

Dad was at times hard but always fair. We blued for days until I, a 15-year-old buckled - digging a footpath in the backyard of our house in Alice at two in the morning with the massive shits - both of us. It should have taken three hours; it was done in 45 minutes.

I threw the shovel on the ground. "Happy now?!" … "Ta".

He was there to pick me up when I tested my gumboot against nail as a 5-year-old - lifting me out of the half-cut 44-gallon drum of sump oil I fell back into before pulling the nail out of my foot.

He was there to teach me how to swim - throwing me out of Pop's tinnie a few metres from the bank of the Murray River.

He was there to yell: "get amongst it boy, get in there and get the bloody footy, it's no good staring at it" as I stood, scared, watching other kids fight for the ball as an 8-year-old. From that moment on, every footy and soon to be basketball had to be mine - at any cost.

"Get amongst it, boy".

Ken with his kids and grandkids in 2017
Ken with his kids and grandkids in 2017

He was there on Christmas morning when Santa bought me a slug gun that was actually taller than me. He was also there defending me when a ricochet off a steel drum "landed" in the hair of our next-door neighbour. I'm not sure what he thought when my sister shot me - deservedly - in the ass with it? But he was there.

He was there every Sunday morning to go for a drive, Australia All Over on ABC radio, our drive would last as long as the three-hour show. I said to Dad just the other day when we were driving on another sun-filled Sunday morning, it's not as good as it used to be. He nodded.

He was there to teach me how to drive a road train at 13. "It's got 18 gears - choose one - and put it over the pit because you need to service the truck and trailers … you'll be right, you won't fall in."

He was there, "pissed and happy", asleep with his head resting on his beloved Marantz speakers - turned up as loud as they could go - with Listen Like Thieves blasting. "These blokes will be big, mark my words." He'd already called it for INXS in late 1985.

Just quietly, he wasn't happy when I blew those speakers up listening to Who Made Who. Cost him 270 to get them fixed.

He was there when we crested a small hill in the middle of the Great Western Desert - in GAFA country - where we marvelled at the horizon in every direction. Back then the Giles weather station on the corner of the NT, SA and WA border was in the heart of GAFA country … Great Amounts of Fuck All.

He was there to tell me it was ok to drive his D9 frontend loader on the bitumen as a 14-year-old only if I didn't get caught. It was my job to move it between his red dirt and river dirt sand leases about 20km from Alice most Saturday mornings while he ran the road train tippers back and forth into town. Mum was on the escavator.

"It'll be right, boy, it's only a couple of Ks on the road - the rest is dirt."

He was there, sitting next to his father Syd, drinking beers as I drove us for 8 hours across the Gun Barrel Highway as a 14-year-old. "The road's straight, boy. It's why they call it the Gunbarrel - just keep it pointed in that direction".

He was there sitting behind the wheel of his "frown-new" Mack Superliner when I climbed out of the sleeper halfway across the Nullabor to wish him a Happy Birthday - his 40th. He'd been awake for two days and didn't realise it was November 25, 1987.

"Thanks boy".

He was there every morning on Walker St, driving to work at 6am - as I was coming home, not from work. "What's he bloody doing all night?" he'd constantly ask mum. It gave him the massive shits: "Bloody day's half over by the time he gets home."

He was there when we both realised as a 16 and now 51-year-old, manual labor wasn't in my future even though he taught me everything I needed to know in the workshop.

He was there out in the Tanami Desert with mum for six weeks when I held a 7-day party at our house at the end of Year 12 … for all of Alice Springs. Fortunately, the coppers didn't show up, but mum's succulents weren't succulent when she came home, she told me they needed water, who knew?

(Mum, I had a party when you and Dad were out the Tanami in 1989)

Ken keeps the sun out of his eyes in the backyard of the family house in Alice Springs in 1987.
Ken keeps the sun out of his eyes in the backyard of the family house in Alice Springs in 1987.

He was there waiting for me one morning as a just turned 18-year-old at the back table. He'd told to get back before 10 or I'd be finally punted out of the house. His 10 was PM the night before, mine wasn't. "You said back before 10, Dad … we'll I am". It was 9.45AM. He didn't laugh.

A road train for Darwin was waiting for me a few days later. "He's got to go," he told mum.

He was there to tell me "...if it's meant to be, it's meant to be" when I got offered my first job at the NT News and he laughed out loud when I was driving the NT News delivery van with a picture of the newspaper's production editor in bed with his wife reading the paper under the slogan: "Did you get yours this morning? I did…"  He wore the promotional singlet everywhere for months.

He was there laughing when he sold me mum's green VB Commodore for 1500 bucks knowing the clutch was rooted - one of his mates had told him he seen me doing circle work on one of the back roads of Alice every arvo when I was still living at home. I took it off the trailer at Co-Ord in Darwin and it shit itself there and then.

"Serves you right."

He was there in Darwin, my second time around, laughing as he threw lit penny bangers my way off my first-floor balcony on Cracker Night. I was downstairs blowing up 300 bucks worth of crackers.

He was there wearing a flash suit on my 40th birthday at Royal Randwick backing winners and drinking beers with my mates Mick and Brett, who liked him just as much, or probably even more.

He was there in the "flash Harry turn-out" V8 Supercars corporate box two years in a row, sitting above pit lane at the Bathurst 1000 … as well as in the corporate box at the Sydney 500, Newcastle 500, Sydney Motorsports 500, the Adelaide 500 for a better part of a decade … I mean, Fair Dinkum, for a bloke who kept on telling me "This is too flash for me, boy …" the beer and oysters didn't stand a chance.

We were being "big timers" and we both loved it.

He was there on my wedding day at Gregors Creek, driving Jenifer about a 100m in our 1959 FC Holden to the tree trunk alter down by the riverbank. Incidentally, the FC was mine that year because it had been my turn to the pay the rego. We swapped "ownership" every year.

He was there in Hawaii on my 50th birthday last year, doing laps of Honolulu in the tourist bus, people watching.

"It was good, so I went a couple of times around, I waved to mum when I went past again."

And he was there on the hotel's balcony to watch a stunning Hawaiian sunset - with a brandy in hand - after another glorious day with his family. He'd worn a Hawaiian shirt on that Thursday too.

He was there just a couple of weeks ago to tell me they'd "rooted up the live timing on the Supercars website - they don't know what they're doing, there was nothing wrong with it. They've run a root with it".

He was there sitting in the driver's seat about six weeks ago, mum and the middle and me in the passenger seat to collect one last bin. I can't help but feel he knew it was his last drive, mum and I thought it was just his last in his skip truck. I took a photo, the three of us smiling at the camera in the cab.

He was there when you didn't even know you needed him with an extraordinary ability to say just the right thing at exactly right time - the moment you needed him most, even if you didn't realise it.

"If it's meant to be, boy, it's meant to be."

Our house, wherever we lived for more than five decades, had its own name: Bringyourownbooze. He had told his future son-in-law Gary in the early, early days of the budding romance with my sister Cherie to "knock with your elbows".

(It's required when there's a carton of Melbourne under each arm, for those wondering).

Gaz did. Ash did as everyone else did that pulled up, dropped in, or came to stay with us over the years. "Let's get on it," he'd say.

It wasn't just Gaz or Ash, he welcomed with open arms into his life all those that his three kids loved. Jen became his "freeloader" in 2003 when we first moved back from the US. He laughed with her -- "the girl from the big city" - when she didn't notice the dirt under her fingernails after loading a trailer full of turf as they drank a post-delivery coffee. He'd crack a beer in her ear - the "secret sound" - at knock off time at the end of another day working on the farm. He convinced her that koalas exploded in bushfires because of all the eucalyptus oil they gutsed. He greeted her every time since with the same three-squeeze hug ... "Uh, Uh, Uh".

He greeted everyone he loved the same way.

"uh, uh, uh."

Ken with V8 Supercars driver David Reynolds at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Ken with V8 Supercars driver David Reynolds at Sydney Motorsport Park. "That young bloke can drive," he'd told Peter.

My sisters and I are privileged to have these three amazing people in our lives. Dad loved each of you as much as Sue, Cherie and I do. Thank you, Ash, Gaz and Jen, for your unconditional love and support.

But it wasn't just his kids; it was everyone as niece Kirstin Brown wrote on "Face Ache" the other day: "I met Uncle Ken when I was first dating Steve in Darwin. He welcomed me into the family with an open heart, open arms, and an ice-cold drink. An amazing man." (They met on the same balcony he threw penny bangers off)

Or a couple of his men that worked for him at Co-Ord more than 30 years ago: "A great bloke and good mate for many years. Rest easy ol' mate."

"Another class act and good mate gone too soon."

He was there every day, putting one foot in front of the other with purpose. His steps got a little slower as the years passed, but they were always with purpose.

He was always, always there for Sue, Cherie and I no matter where, when or why.

His final trip was from one ward to another at Prince Charles Hospital on November 22. I was in the passenger seat, again. Along for the ride, my spot, for the last time.

When his heart started to overflow, a wave of people flooded his room, none of whom had ever met him, but all determined to keep his engine running.

The room was overwhelmed by wondrous love and care. Out of that blue wave came a comforting arm around my shoulder. I'd never met Carmen before, but she was immediately familiar, caring. She is an ICU nurse, who saw me shrinking into a corner.

"Sit here, Peter," she said, leading me by the shoulder to his bedside.

"Here, hold your father's hand."

I leaned in to tell him: "You've got your own bloody pit crew in 'ere, Pa. They've got you up on blocks, trying to get your engine fired up. You'll be right."

He nodded, with a glimmer in his eye.

4% … "Dad, we love you" - he nodded.

3% … "You have built the most amazing family" - he nodded.  "We all love you Pa - mum, the girls, the kids, all of us."

2% … "I love you, Dad."

He'd told mum the day before - to all our surprise - to turn the machines off when the time came. It just wasn't supposed to be today or tomorrow, or the next.

I looked up from Dad to the doctor and told him, "He didn't want all this beeping."

There was silence. The doctor then slipped through the blue curtain and left.

It was just us again - Dad and I together - sleeping under the stars in the middle of the Simpson Desert, a crackling fire to warm our swags, counting satellites in a cloudless, jet-black, star-filled sky.

12 in an hour was our record.

1% … "It's ok, Dad. It's ok. We love you." Both my hands grasped his forearm. He just needed to know I was there; his family was there.

"We love you, Dad."

My father's heart was so full of love, joy, and pride it overflowed on November 22nd right around 3 o'clock. He'd finally knocked off early.

He is the greatest man that I have ever known. I am my father's son and for the privilege of that, every day, I will continue to try to be the son my father taught me to be, until my very own heart overflows.

Kenneth Gordon Brown - Kenny G, Browny - Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, and mate … Pa.

We love you. Hooroo.

Ken in the front seat of his beloved 1959 FC Holden
Ken in the front seat of his beloved 1959 FC Holden

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