IT’S THAT kind of morning in Coronet Bay. Clear sky, light breeze off the water, sun warm on your back. 7am: dog walking time.
Joy Button and her border collie are heading home up Cutty Sark Road. Four days to go to Coronet Bay’s 11th annual Christmas lunch for people who’d like to be among friends. She’s mentally ticking off jobs to be done by the planning group. Sixty diners coming from as far away as Nyora and Clyde plus 16 volunteers. Ham, turkey, Christmas pudding, pavlova and berries ... $12 all in. And a takeaway box for the mince pies, shortbread, rumballs, Christmas cake. All home-baked fare.
Walking down the hill towards her is Reg Toull, his Jack Russell pulling at the lead to get to the water. Reg is close to 90 and he’s a bit of a legend.
“Morning, Reg,” Joy says.
“Had a big day yesterday,” Reg tells her. “Left here at 6.20 in the morning with my son and got to the Alfred at 9.40. Been seeing my specialist for years and yesterday he shook my hand, and told me he didn’t want to see me again. I’m cancer free.
“On the way back we called in at the Grantville Pharmacy and I told `em: ‘I won’t be seeing you any more. I’m cancer-free!’ They come up and hugged me and kissed me. Hugged me and kissed me, God damn it all!” he says happily, laughing in disbelief.
The Grantville Pharmacy is a busy dispensary. They might make up 400 prescriptions in a single day. But it’s a place where people stay to chat and drop in gifts of home-made jam and share photographs and good, and bad, news.
That’s how it goes around here, thinks Joy. We don’t have much but there are natural hubs. The pharmacy is one. Our general store is another. Drop-in places. Places to tell a remarkable story like this one.
“And yeah, when I got home I celebrated with a glass of red wine.” Reg said.
Reg was a builder and proud of it. He built the Lady Barron pub on Flinders Island. When his wife of 55 years died, he sold up the family home in Rosebud and bought a property in Benalla. The cancer story started there six years ago. The trigger was a hernia. Two weeks after the operation they took a swab of his throat and next thing he was having chemo for cancer. That was Wangaratta. Later it was the Alfred for more tests and more of those MRI machines.
“All these tunnels I had, I had about seven of them. The doctor’s went through it all, mate. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the throat. Then I went to the Austin and they found exactly where it was. So I went back to the Alfred. They zapped me 15 times for two minutes every day. Fifteen times! Then it’s all gone. After that I went back to the Alfred for regular check-ups and the other day I got the all clear.”
Joy is astonished. He had never talked about the cancer before, never complained. He’d always been so ... purposeful.
Meanwhile, Reg is warming to a favourite topic. “You know what did it? My specialist said: ‘Reg, You know why? Because you’re a healthy bloke!’ Because I eat well. Breakfast every morning, four Weetbix, never miss! I don’t drink beer and I don’t smoke. I give up smoking 50 years ago. All I do now, every second night is I have a little red wine while I’m cooking tea.”
He had twelve years in Benalla.” Only me, the dog and the bird. When I got sick it was too much to look after so I came down here to my daughter’s partner’s house. He’s been doing it up. I’ve done a bit. I’ve done the verandahs, just taking my time, because I’m a builder. I don’t have to hurry. And I don’t worry. The only tablets I take are two Digoxins; they’re nothing to do with cancer. But what I do every morning is put a pinch of bicarb soda and half a teaspoon of salt in some warm water and gargle that after I have me breakfast.”
“It’s like what the doctor said. ‘You’re one of the few, Reg.’ In five months time I’ll be 90. And I’m still riding the motor bike: the big Cruiser. Been riding bikes since before I was married. Sold the Harley, got a Honda Cruiser. Play nine holes of golf with a friend once or twice a week.”
What a way to start your day, thinks Joy. She loves this open, generous town and the way people bump along together. She thinks of the devastated boy who had his kayak stolen. A quick whip round, word of mouth, and they’d raised enough to buy another kayak. The town’s Facebook page is abuzz with information sought and offered. Recently someone posted a request: “Can anyone lend us a ladder?” Within minutes there were five or six people saying: “I’ve got one!” Someone else says: “I’ll bring it round now.”
Reg isn’t a joiner. He marches to the sound of his own drumming. “There’s only me and the dog and the bird. The day after I got here I took my bike out – it’s the same as a Harley except its red, the Cruiser. ‘Geez, that’s a nice bike!’ they said. And I got to know `em all.
“I walk that Jack Russell every second day with a big lead and he swims a mile and a half and I walk along with him in the water or on the sand. My bird is a cockatiel. He talks like mad. ‘Welcome home, Reg,’ he’ll say. I’ve had him 23 years. Of a night time I watch Chase. I love that.”
Taking her leave, Joy calls: “It’s a good life, Reg”.
He raises an admonishing index finger: “Only if you don’t weaken!”