by Luke Williams

Editor’s Note: It was a joy for me (Warwick Marsh) to meet some of my dear friend Barry Williams’s children and grandchildren at his funeral on 6 March 2024 in Canberra. Each shone with a deep love in their own unique way. The words of the ancient Greek philosopher Euripides come to mind: “Noble fathers have noble children.”

Barry Williams, as the founder of the Lone Fathers Association, was the hero for the single dads of Australia and their children for the last 50 years. I would describe his achievements as staggering. Read my tribute here.

Luke Williams gave an outstanding eulogy for his grandfather. Luke Williams is an RMIT Indigenous Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow, so he is a skilled wordsmith. His words of love showed that while saving the world, Barry Williams was always there for his children and grandchildren. Barry lived and breathed the words he spoke about being a good dad. He was a man amongst men.

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For those who don’t know me, my name is Luke. I am the eldest grandson of Barry. On behalf of the immediate family, I thank you all for coming today to celebrate the life of my Poppy.

To start, I have some words from Nanny Neit, who has been by Poppy’s side for the past 50 years.

“Today, I say farewell to the love of my life.

Taken way too soon, but the memories of our laughter will always remain.

Love you now and forever.

Love Neita.”

I’ve been asked to do the eulogy today, and in doing so, I really want to talk about the Poppy that I grew up, with but also highlight some of the amazing achievements that he has managed throughout his life.

Poppy was born on the 18th of April 1938, in Lismore, New South Wales. From what I understand, Poppy’s upbringing was somewhat dysfunctional. This led to a young Poppy being quite adventurous. I’ve heard, as a young teenager, that he left home and hitchhiked with his .22 calibre rifle and his dog for over 1000 km from Southern Queensland where he lived with his mother, to be reunited with his father in Sydney.

It seems that during this time, Poppy had many different jobs, and I suppose he was somewhat of a roustabout during his early years. One story that I have more detail about is the time that he worked at a sawmill, with his brother Keith.

 

Now, I don’t know the full details of this story, but apparently, a young 14-year-old Poppy held not only the record for passing the most logs through the framesaw in a single day, but also held the record for being sacked the most often. I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine why he might have been sacked by his brother – and I reckon it might have something to do with his cheeky attitude – but this is a story that I’m sure Uncle Keith can elaborate on later today.

Upon hearing these sawmill antics, I couldn’t help but think how well they typify the old boy I know. Hardworking and dedicated, but full of cheek and humour, and I can imagine him giving his brother, who was his foreman at the time, a hell of a lot of cheek.

During his later teens and into early adulthood, Poppy also had a stint in both the Army and Navy, where he was based in Sydney. Now, I don’t know too much about this time, but I have heard he might have been underage, and he may have held little regard for the discipline of the place. There are rumours getting around that he’d often jump the walls of the Army barracks to hit the town, which eventually led to him being caught up for being underage and thrown out of the army.

Eventually, in his early 20s, he met my Granny – Emily – to whom he had four kids. The oldest being my father, Bart, followed by Uncle Dave, Auntie Sam, and Uncle Mick, who are all here with us today. With four kids in tow, he took a new job as a surveyor, which bought the family to Canberra, where they first lived together in Ainslie, and then later moved to his home in Evatt, which is a house he so proudly owned outright.

I’m sure many of you know this house. I have heard many stories about Poppy’s place being a place of respite, a house with an always open door, and most likely a refuge for many of the people who are here today.

Single Dad

While the kids were still young, Poppy and Granny did eventually split up. And Pop was left with the four kids. With Bart, Dave and Sam all being in primary school, and Mick, a toddler.Barry Williams

I can only imagine these times would have been tough for all involved. But from what I understand, Poppy provided for the kids, had a roof over their heads, and, importantly, also ensured that the kids had continued contact with their mother, my Granny, who at this stage lived interstate, and had fought and won against her own demons. Moving forward, Poppy maintained a friendship with Granny. Not holding resentment towards her, but understanding the complexities of the time — which I think is typical of his personality: forgiving, understanding, and supportive.

Being a single father during this time, he dealt with many barriers, including the Family Law Act that, at the time, did not recognise single fathers as primary caregivers. Nonetheless, Poppy prevailed and received custody, becoming the first man in Australia to win custody, and therefore, setting the precedent for the future of men’s rights in Australia. I believe this is likely the point that set his advocacy work into motion.

Also, around this time, Poppy was involved in a workplace accident that meant he could no longer work in the job he was doing, so with four young kids, he began to seek help as a single father.

Now, during this time, there were very limited options for single fathers — you need to remember, that only a short period earlier, he was the first man to actually gain custody of his children — so Poppy advocated for the single mothers’ benefit of the time, which provided financial aid to mothers, to be changed to the supporting parents’ benefit, which would cover both mothers and fathers. To which the government of the time refused.

This resulted in Poppy going on a hunger strike at Parliament House for five days and five nights – the outcome of this was a change in policy that saw the supporting parents’ benefit come into effect, which meant that there was equal support for both genders.

Around this time, Poppy also met Nanny Neit and her daughter Auntie Katrina, who are both here today, and have both been by Poppy’s side, a part of the family, since they met.

Inspiration

Poppy then dedicated much of his time to advocacy. He established the first branch of The Lone Fathers Association in the ACT, where he advocated for the rights of single parents and provided counselling and refuge for men who were victims of domestic violence. Poppy was the president of this organisation for 50-odd years, making the organisation one of the longest and most successful family law reform organisations in the world, helping both men and women throughout Australia.

Barry Williams

While there are many achievements in his professional life, I’ll let his good friend John, who will be speaking next, expand on this area.

To be honest, when I was growing up, his professional life was an enigma to me. It wasn’t until later in my life when I googled his name to better understand what all this Lone Fathers work was about, and to look into why he had a picture shaking hands with Barack Obama.

This was when I found out the larrikin I knew who would come out during Christmas lunches dressed up in cheap cowboy outfit, guns blazing, stuck-on oversized moustache, hat and all, just to give everyone a laugh. This larrikin had previously received a British Empire Metal from the Crown in 1980, had won Senior Australian of the Year for ACT in 2005, and would receive an Order of Australia in 2015.

Poppy received this recognition for his dedication to helping others and, ultimately, his goal of making Australia a better place — his achievements in this space are vast and more than many of us would ever expect to achieve in our lifetimes.

Upon reading more of his work, I reflect and remember him often dashing off to take a phone call during family events. I never really knew why he had to take the call at this particular point in time. But I now understand the extent of his actions – which in reality, at times, I’m sure these phone calls meant saving another man’s life who was struggling and needed the counselling and support that Poppy offered to many.

Dedication

So, while Poppy had this professional life, he also did an amazing job at being the family man. He was a husband to Nanny Neit, a father to five children, a grandfather to nine and a great-grandfather to two more.

For me personally, I truly only ever knew Poppy as a complete larrikin, never really knowing if the story he was telling me was load of crap, or if it was going to be serious — to this day, I don’t know if half the stories he told me were true or if he was pulling my leg. He was a joker and always looking to bring happiness to the table.

Ultimately, he was the man in the family (and I don’t mean that lightly – he is the pinnacle of what a man should be – self-sacrificing, forgiving, empathetic, hardworking, dedicated, loving and caring), who would always ensure that the family were happy, and when chaos ensured, as it often did in our family, he never passed judgment, never once took sides.

He provided peace amongst the chaos. As many of you here would know, he always had an open door, didn’t judge people on their actions, but forgave and never turned his back on you.

While I was asked to speak about his personal life, I really did want to also touch on his professional life. These achievements go above and beyond what most people manage in their lifetime, and I am hell proud to say I am his grandson. I believe his desire to help others has, in fact, made a better world for us all – as I am sure many in this room would agree. Again, a feat little manage to achieve in a lifetime.

So, while I am extremely proud of his achievements, I am also forever grateful for the stability he provided throughout my life.

Rest well, Poppy boy.

Barry Williams

About the Author: Guest Writer

Dads4Kids is a harm prevention charity committed to excellence in fathering. Our vision is to transform the nation by inspiring fathers to help their children be the best they can be.There’s a crisis in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 870,000 children, more than 1 in 6, live without their biological father at home.

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