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KEENAN FAMILY in Australia

Wilfred Walter Keenan (15-1-1910 -10-8-1998)


Delivered by his son, Peter Keenan. Written by Peter Keenan and Barbara Crosby (nee Keenan).


"In looking back over Dad’s life the thing that stands out is that it can be split into two distinct and almost equal eras.  In the first half of his life he grew up, worked, married and started a family in New South Wales.  Then, at the age of 43, he brought his family to Shepparton and began what was, in many ways, a new life.

Dad was born in 1910 in Batlow, a small town in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.  His father, James, was a goldminer, shearer and farm labourer.  His mother, Florence Skien, was the ninth child of dairy farmers.

The Skien’s were of Scottish descent.  Dad once said he felt more like a Skien than a Keenan; more like a Scot than an Irishman.  Perhaps he was, because when it came to issues involving money, those of us who new him can certainly testify to his frugal nature.

Dad’s grandfather and grandmother, on the Keenan side, were immigrants from County Derry, in Northern Ireland.  They came to Australia as newly weds in 1864.  James Keenan, Dad’s father, was their first child.

Dad had two brothers - Fred and Hector - and three sisters - Grace (who died in childhood), Edna and Muriel. All have passed away, the most recent being Muriel, who died almost two years ago to the day.

Dad suffered from asthma from birth. So, at the age of about 8, he was sent to the milder climate of Wagga, to live with his uncle.  He left school at 13 and his first job was at his uncle’s barber shop.  The barber shop had an illegal gambling room out the back, and part of Dad’s job was to stand on the footpath and warn his uncle when the police were coming.

A few years later Dad returned to Batlow and started work at the main fruit packing shed.  For the next 10 or so years he worked as a fruit packer at Batlow, Young, Leeton and in other parts of New South Wales, as well as in Queensland and Tasmania.  He gained a reputation as one of the best and fastest fruit packers in Australia.  He still holds the record in Batlow for the most fruit packed in one day.

During the war years, Dad became foreman at the Batlow Packing House and guided it through a very difficult period.  Locals have said that without his efforts the Packing House would not have survived. 

But for the boys who stayed at home, the war years weren’t all bad.  A lot of the workers at the Packing House were young Land Army Girls, down from Sydney to lend a hand.  So being one of the few, fit, young men left home certainly had its advantages.

After a number of romances, Dad met, courted and, in 1944, married a lovely, dark-haired beauty from Young, by the name of Venda Nolan.

Wilf and Venda had three children, Barbara, Geoffrey and Peter.  Today, Barbara is married to Rowland Crosby, Geoff is married to Rosemary O’Brien, and Peter, - that’s me - is married to Margaret Andrews of Melbourne.  Between us we have blessed Dad and Mum with 13 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.  (Sadly, Mum passed away 6 years ago.)

Back in 1953, after the death of both of Dad’s parents and the death of Mum’s mother, the family moved to Shepparton.  In the years that followed Dad often said that moving to Shepparton was the best thing he’d ever done.

His move to Shepparton was the start of many changes.

He changed his football code from Rugby to Aussie Rules, and quickly became one of its greatest fans.  Whenever he met up with his New South Wales relatives he would praise the game to the hilt, like a true-blue Victorian.  Most Saturday afternoons he would be at the footy barracking with the best of them.

Dad also changed his other religion too, that is one involving God.  Although he had been baptised a Presbyterian, he was, at the age of 52, confirmed in the Church of England at St Augustines.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this change did not alter his attitude to alcohol, and he remained a near teetotaller.

Another change Dad made was in his regular occupation, from fruit packer to builders labourer, and, soon after, to carpenter.  However, the fruit game was in his blood, and for many years he worked over the summer holidays and on weekends packing fruit at various orchards.  As a carpenter he worked on many sites in and around Shepparton, including the Shepparton Post Office and the Gowrie Street School.  He also built a large extension on the family home at 6 Regent Street.

However, one thing that didn’t change with the move to Shepparton was Dad’s character.

Everybody who knew our father would have many special memories of him. The ones that remain with me are of a man who was strong, passionate, affectionate and hard-working.  Despite suffering from asthma all his life - including a long period when there was no effective treatment for it- he seemed to thrive on heat and hard work.  And, until very recently, he seemed to be 10 or 20 years younger than he actually was.

Barbara and Geoffrey have memories similar to mine.  Dad had firm views on life, morals, politics and sport. And although we did not always agree, we admired his basic values.  A good, enjoyable life to Dad was having a sturdy roof over our heads, plenty of healthy food, good friends and neighbours, and working hard.

When we were gathered together for a celebration and a few beers, Dad would often say to us, “what’s wrong with water”, or “you can’t still be thirsty”.

Dad had a huge vegetable garden of which he was very proud.  He took great pleasure in providing family and neighbours with his home grown produce.  One of my favourite memories of him is seeing him sitting at the kitchen table eating a whole tomato just like it was an apple.

To Dad a healthy lifestyle was the ultimate.  He believed we should look after ourselves.  He loved to be outdoors and even in his early 80's he would have the occasional swim.

Although basically a shy person, Dad loved nothing better than for people to “pop in” for a chat.  And he loved card games, especially Euchre.

Dad was affectionately know by many as “The Boss”.  At times he found it difficult to accept the modern way of doing things, because they were so different from when he was young.

Dad adored all his grandchildren and took a keen interest and tremendous pride in each and every one of them.  He was a wonderful role-model for all that follow him

Dad lived a long, productive and decent life.  He was 88 when he passed away, comfortably and quietly.  We were fortunate to have him with us for so long.  Long may he rest in peace and in God’s care."



Published: 10 August 2006.