LEGACY OF A LIFE LIVED WELL Colleen Keene, The Age (Mon 18 Jun 2007) The simple truth of a parent's love and becomes integrated in ways that his wife, informs the work of his son, writes Colleen for complex reasons, is never really able to. Keene. The book is also a social and historical RAIMOND Gaita's father was a document because of the period it covers and character, not a mere "personality", and the the nature of rural Australia in the 1950s and autobiographical text Romulus, My Father is a '60s. The building of Cairn Curran Reservoir stirring homage to this larger-than-life provided typical post-war immigrant embodiment of passion, pain, integrity and employment and the rural work roles and living fully. relationships embody the times. Romulus is The experiences of Romulus Gaita above all else a worker and a deep respect for cover a wide territory, ranging across war, work values and of skilled trades and crafts is migration, work, love, friendship, mental illness at the centre of his character and sense of and many forms of achievement and loss. His meaning. values and principles deeply informed his son's As a blacksmith and iron-worker he has philosophical and moral inquiries. skills that are recognised slowly by a culture That ethics and moral philosophy should resistant to New Australians despite Romulus' become Raimond Gaita's specialisation and ingenuity, energy and openness. His capacity that he should use his powers of reflection, to adapt and build a life at Frogmore, near reasoning skills and humanistic insights in the Maldon in Central Victoria, is inspirational. service of both academic learning and public We quickly learn through his son's debate seems perfectly consistent with the life misdemeanors (the aftershave and razor that is uncovered and evoked so wonderfully in incidents) that honesty is also a central value this celebrated book. for this serious-minded and big-hearted man It is an unconventional biography and for whom truth, tolerance and compassion example of life writing. The narrative belongs to outstrip any weight given to status, Romulus but the author is harvesting and materialism, superficial values and forms of recalling from mid-life the circumstances and acceptance and getting ahead. The experiences of his father and hence also his relationship between work and character is at own experiences, setting his early life in the the heart of his ethics of decency. vivid context of his father's framework. But instability and mental illness shadow The subjective nature of first-hand experience the lives of Romulus and his son, beginning gives this book its great energy, warmth and with the restlessness and depression of wife power. The impact of his father's way of being and mother, Christine, who is young, in the world is a profoundly influential legacy unhealthy, has a German background and for the son turned author and a powerful different expectations and needs. experience for the reader. Her inability to function well as a home- With great immediacy, Gaita takes us maker, faithful wife and mother of an infant are straight into the moments of deprivation, depicted mostly through the frustrated eyes of struggle and confrontation that shape the life Romulus and those around her, as the that Romulus carves out for himself in situations fluctuate and deteriorate with Australia, after fleeing Yugoslavia and separations and financial debacles. Germany during the war. He and his family The author does not condemn his encounter forms of exclusion and insularity but mother for her neglect but focuses more on the he readily adopts and embraces his new home practical issues and impact on ordinary survival. Everything comes under pressure as the father struggles to hold things together and elements of life, including the significant and sustain a simple life of work and support for his comforting place of animals. Jack the Cockatoo son and others who need his assistance, which is a unique character, as are Orloff the dog and he gives with unflinching generosity. the family's cow. The compassion Romulus The relationship that develops between shows towards life is sustained to the end; Mitru and Christine and the psychological dying in hospital in Melbourne, he prefers his deterioration for them forms the tragic core of second wife, Milka, to be back in Maryborough this migrant story and also points to the looking after the goats, chickens and other complex pressures of migration and challenges sundry beings. to survival on many levels: emotional, The greatest sadness in the text is psychological, financial. Their suicides and the Romulus' own story of mental decline under consequences for the children, husband, the weight of "affliction" and unfathomable brother and friend are a measure of distance experience and particularly his incapacity to between the strength of character of Romulus understand malevolence. In this he is a puritan, and Raimond and the fragility of others less a moralist and an innocent. The author endowed with clarity and fierce determination documents the disintegration, paranoia and to make a life in very challenging and depleted superstitious fears that threaten the purity and circumstances. transparency of his principles and values after The text is scattered with humorous his disappointment over Lydia's betrayal and events and stories that portray a unique life so many other struggles and losses. In his that encompasses both richness and moral perfectionism, Romulus is fierce and deprivation. The austere nature of the home, admirable but not flexible enough to food, home-made clothing and getting by is accommodate inconsistency and the reality of something the author as a young man registers evil. but does not feel as deprivation, because of This is a son's loving account of a the love and support and company of Romulus, father's life lived with courage and integrity in Hora and other characters such as the Lillies the face of hardship. Above all, it is Romulus' and even Vacek. appreciation of human dignity in the face of Needs are met and life is full of colour humiliating and degrading experience, his love and passion and at times violence deflected by of common humanity and the respect he ethical thought. The motorbike is never seen accords to all people despite his judgements as an inferior form of transport, the son is about their behaviour, that shine through. contented with his eccentric, simple life at Raimond Gaita, in this and all his work, Frogmore and comes to love the environment, extends the spirit of his father's life. Readers the light and the vegetation in a different way will find it fascinating to see how the film from his European father. starring Eric Bana as Romulus, which is in He writes as one surrounded by support cinemas, captures his life and character. and affection and a valuing of all the mixed REFERENCES WEBSITE · Discussion of Raimond Gaita and his writing on Life Writing site: lifenarrative.net/resources/australia-life-writing/raimond-gaita.html PRINT REFERENCES · Multiculturalism and Universalism in Romulus, My Father. David Parker. Critical Review 41 (2001), pages 44-53.