Storytellers – Des Kearney

Caps where compulsory in the 1960s’s L-R: Dick Morath (slightly obscured), Des Kearney (pointing), Lou Morath, Tim Anderson, John Bagnall, Angus McKenzie (behind John), Vin Morath (foreground) – Click image to enlarge.

At the 100th Meeting Karel Moray shared some wonderful stories about her father club legend Des Kearney. This fabulous presentation of anecdotes and insights to the true Des Kearney was followed with a surprise celebration with a spectacular cake and champagne to mark the 100th meeting milestone.

Convenor Clive Mancey with the spectacular cake to celebrate the 100th meeting

The way members have embraced the Storytellers has made it all worthwhile and we all know a little bit more about each other. It’s a fun way to spend an evening being entertained once a month and now helps accumulate some good stories for the BBC Bicentenary publication!

Daughter – Karol Moray

Karel told us how Peter Desmond (call me Des) Kearney was born on 25 July 1917 to Deyra Drummond & Raymond Kearney of Cremorne, Sydney. Deyra was of Scottish background. Des’s father died when he was 2 years old. Deyra, who never remarried, raised Des as a single parent.

The Drummonds had a recognisable familial look – strong features, chocolate brown eyes and an imposing bearing. It was no surprise that Des later earned the nickname of the Black Prince with his olive skin, flashing white smile & distinctive moustache.

After attending school locally in 1939 Des enlisted in the army, joining the 2/30 infantry Battalion under the leadership of Brigadier Sir Frederick Galleghan. The men of the 2/30 were known as Galleghan’s Greyhound. In March 1944 he married Karel’s mother Thelma Nichols. As Karel explained her mother was blessed with great patience and an even temperament, the perfect foil for Des.

Karel then provided details of Des’s War service and the clashes with the Japanese land forces on the east coast of Malaya. There came an eventual retreat to Singapore by the 2/30th where with hundreds of others they were moved to Changi prison where they remained as “guests of the Japanese”. From there they were selected to transfer to the notorious Burma railroad. Des, an officer, a Captain, was assigned to the Working Party “F” force comprising of 1800 men. In Karel’s words “Survival in these labour camps depended on will, luck, mates, humour, quality of leaders, discipline, whims of the guards and the miracles worked by the medical men. Cholera, typhoid, dysentery, beriberi, malaria was rife and had affected 1300 of the 1800 men in the camp.

It was here, at Sonkurai, in these indescribable conditions that, Des, Ward Booth and one of the Medical officers Lloyd Cahill, an eminent Macquarie Street eye specialist, came up the idea, no doubt to lift their spirits, and dream of home, that when and if they survived the camp and war ended, the first of the trio to produce a child upon returning to Sydney would be awarded a cup …and here AM I!!!!!” (cup was present too..)

Des Kearney -1975 Gala day (Jack Cox and Presentation day)

Karel shared many more stories of Des, returning from the War, raising a family, establishing a successful importing business and of his interests. His interests were vast and included cooking – curries being a speciality and entertaining generally. There were tales of his love of dogs – “None as much as the dog he kept for the last 6 or so years of his life, living in Glover Street. This was an Irish terrier called Tottenham (where it came from in NSW). Tottenham played a vital role in Des’s life accompanying him absolutely everywhere. The highlight of this companionship was the day Des was pulled over by the local police, driving a very battered old Chrysler, with ‘L’ plates without any sign of an accompanying passenger. When questioned by the policeman, Des’s famous reply was “Well Officer, my dog is licensed!” The Officer, taken aback with this response sent Dad home without a fine or charge! After Dad died my standard response to friends / acquaintances who asked after me was that I had managed 2 Irish terriers, Dad and the dog!”.

We learnt about his sporting interests, rugby for Norths and sailing with many associated yarns. Karel had everyone in stitches with the ones about Des’s dentures and attending a mate’s funeral at the Central Coast arriving in the front seat of the hearse, his recently deceased friend lying in state in the coffin!

Des and other elder stalwarts were the bricks and backbone of the BBC. There was always a sense of welcome and camaraderie amongst members and their families. As you can read in the BBC Centenary Book he ruffled some member’s feathers over the idea to introduce Saturday morning races. He wouldn’t have deliberately upset members, “but he was a product of his upbringing – joining the army, used to giving commands in an all-male environment”.

Karel finished her wonderful presentation by encouraging everyone present to sing along to Des’s favourite song, his party piece “Mack the Knife” … no doubt he would be smiling broadly!! (lyrics were distributed so no excuses…).

Many thanks to Karel for ‘volunteering with some gentle persuasion by Liz Mather’ to talk about her father, Life Member and BBC Legend Des Kearney.

The next meeting of the Storytellers will be on Tuesday 18th September 2018, commencing at 7:30 pm.

If the weather is good then come for a drink, feed and chat beforehand, usually starting at 6pm. All members and friends are welcome.