Reverend Bruce Holland tribute/Eulogy

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Ashfield, Burwood, Berala, Croydon, Granville, Liverpool; I (Ralph) only relate to these as train stops, but these were the places where (my father) Bruce was born, where he lived, where he went to school, and Church and Fellowship.

At the age of 3 Bruce was perfect, his mother told him so … a perfect little pest. This is because he used to pull things apart and make things. He and his dad made their first crystal set around the age of 8. Bruce wired his mum and dad’s house for sound, and I heard he even blew a fuse or two. I think a bobby pin in a power point may have been involved on one occasion. He was also into chemistry and made chlorine in the family bathroom and nearly asphyxiated, from which he has always attributed his asthma.

While Bruce was still at school, he budgetted his pocket money to purchase transformers, valves and other radio parts, and used to buy these parts from Price’s Radio House in the city.

After leaving school, Bruce started out as an apprentice at Dairy Farmer’s Milk Co-operative in 1942. When he arrived in his brand-new suit with collar, tie and hat he found that his first job was to sweep out the workshop after changing into his new overalls. The following job for that same day was to take all the lunch orders and to purchase everone’s lunches. This continued for a year until Bruce could hand the Broom over to the new apprentice: Len Fairfield, and then Bruce was put on phone answering duty and looking after the storeroom.

While at Dairy Farmers, and at the age of 17 Bruce started dating, and it seems there were 3 girl friends before Elaine (my mum).

Around his time Bruce decided he wanted to join the ministry and he eventually enrolled at Moore College, Rev. Gordon King and the Endeavour Fellowship played no small part in that.

Bruce was smitten by Elaine, whom he met at a fellowship. He courted her with his younger brother Peter’s Baby Austin car, to have her think he had money. Shortly afterwards he took leave from Moore Theological College studies to marry Elaine. But Bruce did resume his studies, and despite finding Greek difficult and unable to pass, he found a way to be ordained in another diocese.

Bruce was installed as Curate at St Pauls West Tamworth under the guidance of Canon Baker, who I remember as being a very nice man who owned a man-shed with steel band-saws, lathes, drill presses and other fascinating things to watch and ask questions about when Bruce and I visited. Canon Baker and Bruce really hit it off – two clergy with trade skills.

At St Paul's Bruce wired the church lighting, and designed the tower’s lightning suppressor and church public address system, and even helped hand-make bricks for the tower. I remember, I was between one or two at the time, and Bruce carried me up the tower in his arms. I also remember seeing the tower bricks being made, and living in the Curate’s cottage, and seeing the river in flood.

Everywhere Bruce lived he had workshops where he built electronic things, with transformers, valves and later transistors. He also owned the first TV set in Delungra, and I used to sneak into the lounge-room and squat behind the couch and watch Dr Who without Bruce and Elaine noticing – or so I thought.

At Delungra Bruce had this wind-mill antenna tower, made from Blue Gum (designed by Canon Bakers’ nephew – I think) and I decided to climb it. Bruce was desperately sent up the ladder by Elaine to rescue me, and the next day he built a hinged door lock over the tower’s ladder stifling my pursuit of heights, or was that danger?

Another day I was bugging him in his laboratory and poking my fingers into an oscilloscope that Bruce was making from parts, and he tried to ward my fingers off, but I ignored him. Moments later I was running to mum saying dad electrocuted me. I must have been about 3 years old at the time. Mum just said oh Bruce. But that was a valuable life lesson to keep me alive.

Bruce was often called upon by the country towns to fix wiring and motor problems, one day at the Bundarra parish, Bruce was down inside the town water tank working on the pump motor and called out ”please bring my side-cutters”. I did not have fear of heights until then, that was when I climbed the ladder and saw a 60’ drop to the outside and a 30‘ drop to the inside which was full of water, and I froze right on the top of the narrow wall to the tank. Bruce had to climb up to the top and help me down on the outside saying it is OK to be scared.

At Werris Creek Bruce had removed a lot of soil from under the Vicarage and built a massive laboratory under there. The best part was he enclosed the verandah and made some bedrooms, and he built a man-hole hinged-door with a ladder down into this laboratory, that I could get to pretty close from my bedroom without leaving the house. Conveniently he installed a two-way light switch just inside the man-hole so I could negotiate all the bits and pieces on the way to the work benches. Come to think of it, most rooms had two way, and some three-way light switches.

Bruce even permitted me to run a wire antenna into my bedroom and gave me a neon-bulb to attach to it, with which I watched glow on every lightning strike, while listening to music on my crystal set, a family tradition, and still with no fear of electricity - so it seems.

I spent hours with him in his various laboratories at several Vicarages when he had spare time. Bruce was also very heavily into Amateur Radio and had many friends he met on the airwaves, and I eventually also became an Amateur Radio operator because of him. Amateur Radio teaches one how to talk to someone you have never met, whom you cannot see, about something that sounded technical, and then to think of something else to discuss while listening to what they said. Sometimes there were rounds of people taking turns – so it was quite a skill.

Also at Werris Creek, Bruce turned-around and extended the church, and I was up a ladder again, this time walking on top of the brick wall assisting with the electrical wiring that I had to run along the top plates. I was Bruce’s apprentice for sometime and knew the SAA wiring rules and it was thought I was going into the trade. Bruce made sure I did everything right under his licence.

Bruce proudly built an electronic organ for Elaine in this laboratory at Werris Creek. He made the case from chip-board and stained and varnished it, and he purchased the keyboard, foot pedals and sound generators as a kit, and designed and built the power supply and power amplifier. Then he worked out how to tune it. Just imagine the look on Elaine’s face when Bruce presented it to her? A gift built with his own hands, and one that she played up until 10 years or so ago. It had a distinctive sound that I liked. Elaine’s music was a part of our lives, and Bruce was a pretty good singer too.

At Tenterfield Bruce supervised the building of a new church hall, and he did the drafting work and all the wiring there too, dug foundations and supervised of course. He was also active in Rotary, and of course the Rotarians met in that same church hall.

The Vicarage at Tenterfield was fairly small, so Bruce converted the old laundry into his electronics workshop, and the copper was covered by a bench, and this workshop was full of parts in drawers that I used to “borrow”, even on University holidays when I was no longer living there. I paid those parts back in kind by justing spending time with him.

Bruce supplemented his meagre parish stipend at these Parishes with electrical contracting work, and by repairing TV sets for Reg Stockman travelling to Inverell, then later travelling to Malvern Star in Tamworth, and then again at Tenterfield for Merv Kneipp who’s TV rental shop was conveniently just down the main street. I was also set to work repairing TVs at Inverell, Tamworth and Tenterfield for my pocket money during the school holidays, working with Bruce, and it was an enjoyable time to share skills that way, something Bruce did for others as well.

Every Parish Bruce worked at, had some sort of financial difficulties or otherwise, and I believe Bruce was sent to the parish by the Bishop to bring them around because he was: practical, in the trade, and from a line of builders.

Bruce and Elaine officially retired from parish work after Tenterfield over 40 years ago, and moved to Narara due to Elaine’s degrading health. This is when Bruce started commuting for an income to Meadowbank Tech and taught industrial electronics. Bruce commuted day in and day out for 10 years, often standing room only by train – in no small part for the shear joy of the relationships and his enthusiam to teach technology. After 10 years he had hit the mandatory State retirement age.

Teaching electronics was something he used to do with the neighbourhood kids in every town he lived, and he also taught me providing me with books, and I think I picked up a lot by osmosis.

When Bruce got to Narara with his own house, you could say he converted the whole house to a laboratory. Underneath this house was his pride and joy, it’s a den, it’s almost another house entirely. Full of test equipment that he has designed and made. Full of tools, and full of spare parts, and full or every fastener that Bunnings carried in stock – not to mention galvanised iron and plastic pipes, and lots of house-hold electrical wiring, second-hand general purpose power outlets, and spare computer power supplies, and disk drives by the dozens. There is even a 8-way antenna distribution system in the garage, supplying TV to nearly every room in the house – a design supplied by Warwick Ford.

Dad also had sheds built to house my brother Mark’s books, but even so Mark installed his books in the house and even down in Bruce’s laboratory, but many friends helped Bruce move those out.

There is evidence of technology everywhere in the Narara house, not to mention 6 or 8 computers, 100s of power points, multiple TV antenna outlets and TV sets, and even two pin 12 volt outlets, and I am yet to find the power source for those. You should see the rows of earth leakage circuit breakers in the switch board. The house has two switch boards, the smaller one is not used any more because Bruce had to install a bigger one. There also seems to be hundreds of keys, and key safes in multiple places, plus a Telephone in every room, so he could answer the phone quickly.

Bruce made an upstairs office in his 90s, again with its own printers, computer and phone, just so he had to walk the stairs and use his legs, reasoning that would help retain mobility. Rails were commissioned and put along the fence for when the stairs became too difficult – he had it all worked out.

Bruce had a sense of humour, and at times a mischievous face, and he had this thing at baptism where he would walk with the baptised babies in his arms down the isles and introduce them to every one in church. When one day he carried a set of twins dressed in bulky christening clothes in both arms, all I could think was don’t drop them; a photo captures this moment in his tribute.

Bruce was always available for his parishioners and friends. He would drop everything and miss his meals and family time when the phone rang at those odd hours, and we would discover someone had rung him about committing suicide. Bruce would always leave the Vicarage and meet them down the street, and he would talk them out of it.

Parish life was Bruce and Elaine’s life, they dedicated themselves to their parishioners and to the church. Their house was an open house with lots of visitors, and I even remember visitors from off the street, call-in travellers, sometimes vagabonds, friends, and the odd very learn-ed visitor dressed in a purple vest wearing a clerical collar. Of course lots of social and learning activities were held in the church hall, including electronics classes.

Bruce’s ministry has touched many lives, and so have his technological pursuits too. He built things, and he maintained relationships, taught people, lead by example, and uplifted many lives, a truly special person.

Besides being our father - he was a father to others - and a brother to many. In his later years he also relished being a great grandfather.