William Lyle Irwin



Submitted by:
Hilary Irwin
Jim McClenaghan
61-3-9486 1820

Cremated at:
Springvale Necropolis

Funeral Directors:
Le Pine, Kew
(Chris Bela)

Dally Messenger III
0411 717 303
John Irwin
Ron Thyer
Helen Townsend

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Dally Messenger
It is my privilege, first of all, to give you a brief outline of Bill's life. This is to provide a context, as it were, for the other three speakers, John, Ron and Helen, who will expound with knowledge and authority on Bill's achievements as a person, as an achieving engineer and businessman, and as a family member.
It is also my privilege to describe Bill as father, grandfather and human being on behalf of his daughter Hilary, and her husband, Jim.

Bill was born in Ballarat in 1917. His grandparents were Irish and Scottish. His father trained as a mining engineer. He later became a civil engineer who specialised in bridge building. Bill was one of five children in his family. He went to Ballarat College where he was a successful student and sportsman, and later on to Melbourne University to study engineering. But it is for his brother John, in a few moments, to tell us more fully about these early years.

Bill was only 22 when, in 1939, the Second World War consumed the world. Bill, because of his background, was clearly destined for the Army engineers. He joined up and soon achieved the rank of Lieutenant. He was involved in the construction of the road up the centre of Australia from Alice Springs to Darwin and afterwards saw service overseas in New Guinea and Borneo.

When he was at University, Bill was in a boarding house with a number of other students. In the same boarding house was a fellow student, Constance Hartley Berry. They started to keep company, shared good times together, and soon developed a close relationship. They married in 1943 during the war years; their marriage photo shows Bill in uniform. It was the beginning of a long, stable and happy relationship. They both understood and accepted each other's role in life. They had a lot of fun together. Con died in 1993. It was a severe blow to Bill.

Bill and Con had two children, Hilary, - and Stephen, who pre-deceased Bill by three years. This was a death which had an overwhelming effect on the rest of Bill's life.

But back to earlier times. Bill worked hard in the early years of his marriage. In 1953 he began his own practice, Irwin, Johnston and Partners, which was very successful. He was the engineer in the construction of the Myer Music Bowl and the Swimming Centre for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. But I will say no more about this because Ron Thyer is here to tell you about Bill's marvellous achievements in this area.
He worked in his practice until his retirement ca 1985. In his retirement he pursued a number of other business interests and gained a reputation as a careful and successful investor. He also enjoyed sailing and did some voluntary work for the community.

After Con's death and during his retirement Bill faced a certain emptiness. Jenny Cheney, a long standing friend through her husband, Bill, and the South Yarra Club, one day invited Bill to join a tennis group in which she was involved. The tennis did Bill the world of good, but the friendship with Jenny even more so! Bill and Jenny, over time, developed a close and rewarding relationship. Though they lived separately, they had many good times together, including some wonderful holidays.

In recent years too, freed from the constraints of business responsibility, Bill became an actively close and loving grandfather to Emily, Hugh and Liam, the children of his son Stephen and his wife Sue. This role became especially important after the death of his son, Stephen, on May 31, 1997.

I had the privilege of officiating at Jim and Hilary's wedding a few years ago. I met Bill there. Jim came into the Irwin family and what gratifies him is the way Bill decided he was OK and accepted him completely. The two men had a relationship of mutual trust and respect and enjoyed each other's company.

The friendship was strong despite the fact that Bill barracked for Melbourne and Jim is a Collingwood supporter!

Hilary has lost a father who loved her deeply and who was similarly loved in return. Though Bill's work consumed a great deal of his time when she was growing up they formed a bond through sailing. On Saturdays, Hilary and Stephen as youngsters, used to sail on Albert Park Lake to the great delight of their father. It was wonderful common ground.

Relationship between parents and children can have their ups and downs but Bill was a man who accepted his children's life choices and the paths they chose, and supported them. He was always there and very proud of both Hilary and Stephen. In these last difficult months, Hilary and Bill developed a new level of closeness, wherein Bill felt he could share with his daughter more about himself, his feelings and his emotions. She remembers her father who liked and was always interested in people. Power or social position meant nothing. Bill judged and accepted people on their personal worth. She admired her father as an innovative engineer. And someone who was a shrewd but ethical business person.

Last August he was diagnosed as having cancer. It was a form of the disease which progressed more rapidly than usual. Despite surgery and radiotherapy Bill's condition deteriorated. Bill faced his condition with patience and courage. Two weeks ago, at his request, he left the Alfred Hospital to come home to die in the care of his daughter. Hilary and Jim cared for him with the help of the District Nursing Service.
He died peacefully last Thursday night, December 7, 2000.

3. Eulogy (John Irwin - Bill's younger brother)
I would now invite Mr John Irwin, Bill's youngest brother and close friend, to speak.

Hil has asked me to say something about Bill as a sibling and a friend, and I want to do that.
Bill was not only my brother, more importantly he was my closest friend and confidante over about 70 years.

In the 25 years or so since we came to Melbourne, Jan also has been close to Bill. She astonished me recently when she told me that Bill said he remembered, with regret, that he had been a tough and tormenting brother. I was flabergasted by this.

My recollection , always a bright memory, was that Bill was just about the ideal older brother.
When I was a small boy he seemed not only omnipotent, but also patient and affectionate, knew everything and was a dependable ally.

Also he was a daring and imaginative risk taker ­ I'm talking about him at 14 and me at 6.
For instance, he could juggle four tennis balls. I remember our parents arriving home from Melbourne with a wonderful and precious dinner set. Great excitement as Nell, with us helping, began the reverent unpacking. Beautiful yellow china, with jazz age decoration at the edges. Nell dashed to the other end of the house for a duster or something, Bill picked up three side plates and juggled all three in the air at once. My heart was in my mouth. When Nell returned unconscious of the drama, my pulse returned to normal, my admiration knew no bounds.

Then he taught me things, all the time. When I was six he patiently taught me to swim, at the boring shallow end, when he could well have been bombing in among the girls at the deep end. When I could dog paddle a width he bought me an ice cream out of his threepence a week.

As well as the dog paddle, he taught me other life enhancing skills. Like how to make a shanghai to ping the insulators on the electricity poles - a thrillingly illicit pastime. Also, he taught me how to ride a bike when I was five. It was a full size bike and I was taught the "under the bar" technique. Few of you under 70 will know about the under the bar technique, but I assure you it's tricky, and needs a patient instructor who will run endlessly alongside.

At a scandalously early age I was taught to start the car. It was a huge Packard, with vertical nickel plated louvres over the radiator which magically opened when the engine warmed. I could gain enormous kudos by demonstrating this attribute of the car to an astounded group of neighbouring eight year olds.
I was also taught to catch and cook yabbies, how to put topspin on a forehand drive, how to walk on stilts - all the necessary tribal knowledge of Ballarat North.

As Bill was eight years older than I, our paths diverged as he moved into adolescence and young adulthood. I longed for his return to Lydiard St, and it was a festival when he and Jean came home. I never felt excluded by either of them. When Bill was 18 he took me camping to the Grampians - surely a pretty irritating constraint on an 18 year old.

In fact Bill's capacity to empathise with the young never diminished. As I advanced to crust old bufferism he continued to find the young amusing, sympathetic and fun! When he was about 65 he did a long walk and climb in the Himalayas - nine weeks out from base camp. The rest of the group averaged one third of his age. Usually he would arrive into the evening camp an hour behind the main group, they would roll out his sleeping bag, pitch his tent, prepare the dinner while they waited for him. Many of them sent him Xmas cards and greetings for years afterwards.

At 70 Bill joined me in a ride around Sri Lanka, and he loved it. At about 72 he and Steve rode bikes from Greece to the Baltic, which tested his endurance, but he loved that also. After Steve's death it was a precious memory.

Not that Bill was especially physically strong. My father used to say, very fondly, "He's got legs like a spider and feet like a duck." But at 14 he was playing championship tennis against 18 year olds. He was agile, fast, impossible to intimidate, and deadly accurate. So he won. He was also a good hurdler, a good footballer, especially in the dry, and played district cricket into his late thirties.

Bill was always very connected to the natural world and became a knowledgable ornithologist. The book in his pack throughout the war was Caley's "What Bird is That?", and I've never seen a more dog eared and pencil annotated copy! He loved sailing - especially the tactical and competitive aspects, and he was good at it. Bill was born at what was always known in the family as "The Terrace" that was before our parents acquired our family home about 1925. The "Terrace" was a large ornate Victorian terrace house occupied by our mother's family, the Lyles.

Our father was away from Ballarat a lot and Nell lived at the Terrace with her parents, Bill and Jean and her five brothers, two of them recently back from the war in France. I think it was a sunny time for Bill with young men coming and going, he had an early childhood of piggy backing, shoulder rides and swinging games. He told me that until he was about four he never really sorted out which of these wonderful creatures was his father. It was a good early start, but fairly soon in Bill's life period disasters began to sweep over the family. I think there was a death about every 2 years from 1922 to 1935.

The most shattering was the death of our five year old sister, Alison. Bill was about 11. The consequences of that death were profound and permanent, I believe. As an 11 year old he had to cope and find his own way forward to the next part of his life, with me training at his heels.

Earlier I mentioned that Bill was an arbitrary risk taker, the dinner plates, car joyriding, the occasional brush with the constabulary about whipping in the backs of trams, insulator pinging and so on.
That all changed. He became a calculated risk taker. I think it was at school that he fell in love with numbers, which he thereafter applied to risks. He never claimed to be a mathematician, but he loved the precision of numbers.

I think in the black economic depression, the succession of family deaths and misfortunes, the manipulation of numbers was a controlling and comforting skill, independent of the storms without.
He had a good mind, a formidable capacity to focus on a problem and a love of precise calculation. Engineering was a natural avenue for him.

His success in developing I.J.P. depended on more than that. It also had to do with the fact the Bill was a hell of a good bloke. Never pretentious, usually humorous, always open to everyone. All these qualities combined to make him a focus about which a people dependent enterprise could grow and prosper. You see, it was practically impossible not to like Bill.

For myself, I'm finding it hard to imagine life without him.

4. Eulogy (Ron Thyer.)
I would now like to ask Ron Thyer, former member of Irwin, Johnston and Partners to pay his tribute to Bill on behalf of the profession.

I am honoured that Hilary has asked me to speak today. Perhaps it's because I was, after Don Breedon, Bill's second full-time employee. We both joined him in l953, and I was still, again, at IJP when Bill retired in 1983.

Let me talk first about the firm he founded and has left behind. Bill completed his engineering degree at the University of Melbourne after war service. He worked first with Consulting Engineers J.L. & E M. Daly. While there, he joined forces with architects Peter McIntyre, John and Phyllis Murphy, and the late Kevin Borland to develop their entry for the design competition for the Swimming Stadium for the 1956 Olympic Games.

Their winning entry was a radical design which met with resistance from some public authorities. With Bill's patience and persistence, and quiet presentation, strongly supported by Professor Arthur Francis, of Melbourne University, their proposal was eventually accepted.

Bill opened his own practice, W L Irwin & Associates, in l952 in an office in St Kilda Road, which he shared with the architects. What a charming old place that was, a once gracious mansion, in a decaying garden, now long gone. But what a stimulating and fun environment inside!

The project was completed successfully, and saw many different uses in the years after the Games. In the late '70s it was converted to the State Indoor Sports and Entertainment Centre, and recently it survived the effects of the City Link tunnels deep beneath it, which threatened to sink it!

The office grew and went on to handle a succession of notable projects with some of Melbourne's leading architects - among them were:

Sidney Myer Music Bowl
Academy of Science Dome, Canberra
State Government Offices Complex
BHP Research Laboratories in Clayton
University Buildings at
Melbourne, Monash, La Trobe, ANU and others
3 High rise Office Buildings:
BHP former headquarters
State Bank Centre
530 Collins Street - Stock Exchange
New Parliament House, Canberra

The firm title changed over the years to
Irwin, Johnston & Breedon, with Roy Johnston and Don.
Irwin, Johnston & Partners
and Scott, Wilson, Irwin, Johnston since the earl y 90's
After moving to East Melbourne, then South Melbourne, the firm is now in a new home in Kingsway.

Bill couldn't be closely involved personally in all the projects I've mentioned. However, it was he who established and built on the framework which made them possible for the office. The client base, the wide contacts, and his ability to empathise with clients and understand their needs were vital. The culture and atmosphere of the office, his encouragement and support for his colleagues, and his ready availability for guidance and advice were a source of strength for us all. He in turn drew strength and support from his late wife, Con. She was the same warm kind of person as Bill, showing the same genuine interest in and concern for his colleagues.

Above all there were his courage, his ability to delegate, and his solid integrity which gave colleagues the freedom and space to accept responsibility and carry projects through, put their own stamp on them, make their own mistakes and learn from them with his support.

So he was the last one to claim all the credit, and was always ready to acknowledge the efforts of those at the coalface.

We all admired and respected Bill, a lovely guy, gentle and a gentleman, kind, compassionate, and extremely tolerant, with a fine sense of humour. He had a great influence on our lives, probably more than we realise even now. We are all grateful to have been his colleagues.

I hope I'll be excused for concluding with two examples of these qualities

There was for many years a Hungarian lady, Mimi, in the drawing office. She was a meticulous and diligent draftswoman, and incidentally, a superb cook! In the early 80s she contracted cancer and died in 1984. Many who knew her were in Canberra then, and she had lost her husband years before. But Bill spent many hours with her in hospital, near the end, held her hand, talked and listened in his gentle style.

On a less sombre note - Bill had a couch in his office on which he sensibly rested when he was close to his elastic limit. Years ago there was another draftsman, again a good worker, in spite of a very active night life. One evening Bill decided to return to the office to clear up some work in peace and quiet. On opening his door he was aware of intense athletic activity, of some kind on the couch. He quietly closed the door, he told us - " the poor things probably had nowhere else to go!"
That would not have done at all for Isambard K. Brunel's office!

So, Bill, perhaps you'll be up there beside Stephenson, Brunel, Eiffel. Nervi, and Arup, at the feet of the Supreme Civil Engineer of them all. And perhaps He'll explain to you how the Myer Bowl cables really work!

Farewell, friend and colleague.

5. Eulogy (Helen Townsend - Bill's niece)
Bill Irwin was my uncle. I've known him all my life and I'll really miss him.
In childhood, uncles are larger than life. In adulthood, they become more like other people, but still retain that childhood magic.

Bill really loved to laugh, and he loved a good time. From my childhood, I associated Bill with his laugh, which was loud, distinctive, and just full of pleasure. As I've got older, I began to see the things that made him laugh were life's ironies and idiosycrancies. He laughed over foibles and idiocies ­ in himself as much as in other people.

He loved a good story. He loved the Simpsons and he remembered the good lines. He liked Seinfeld. He liked stories about people. And you could always get him to laugh with a good story about a dog. All that meant he was a great person to be around.

Both my parents, Jean, who was his older sister, and my father Alan were very proud of what Bill achieved. When we were kids we knew how he'd engineered the Olympic pool for the '56 games. We never went to Canberra without driving round the Science Bowl a couple of times. Later, I pointed his buildings dotted round Melbourne to my children.

But the interesting thing about Bill's achievements was he had a sort of diffidence about them. I'm sure he was proud of what he did. His work was an enormous part of his life, totally engaging and vitally important to him. But when you asked him about his latest project, he'd tell you a bit about it, then say something like, "Well, I got a kid in the office to check the maths on it. You know, I don't want it falling down." And I remember his pleasure when he told the story of getting a builder to look at a crumbling wall of his house in O'Shaunessy Street, and the builder said, "You ought to get an engineer to look at that."

I think he also never knew how much people liked him and cared about him. He was often a bit surprised that you rang or wanted to visit him. It wasn't modesty because it was less conscious than that. He just didn't realise the warmth and affection other people felt for him.

Bill was a complicated man. He struggled with a lot of anxieties about the sort of person he was and the sort of person he thought he should be. To me, that struggle was an indication, not of some sort of airy fairy ideal of perfection, but a confirmation he was a person of great depth, character and integrity.
In his last years, he had a lot to contend with. First, there's was Con's death after their very long marriage, then the tragedy of Stephen's death. Life's never the same after something like that, but he faced life again despite his grief. He desperately wanted a good life for his grandchildren, Emily, Hugh and Liam, who he loved so much.

Bill was in Sydney with Jenny in July. All his nieces and nephews there had a great sense of excitement about him coming. We all loved seeing him and spending time with him. He was interested in everything, curious about things. He liked knowing how things worked, the history of them, ideas about them. He liked to get a handle on things. I guess those were some of the qualities that made him so inventive in his work, as well as making him such an interesting person to be with.

He didn't know back in July that he had cancer, but he did talk about death and there were two things he said that struck me. One was that he said he had felt haunted by death all his life. The other, which is almost contradictory, was that he didn't think the death of anyone over sixty-five was a great tragedy. I suppose that illustrates two major aspects of his personality ­ his wide view of life and his own internal struggles, which co-existed with his deep practicality and pragmatism.

We talked about death, but we also talked also about how much he was enjoying life right then. He talked about Hilary and Jim, about his Emily and Hugh and Liam, about John and Jan, and Jenny. These were some of the people who were intertwined with his life on an everyday basis.

That was only four months ago. I last saw him a few weeks ago in hospital. He was very much engaged by the present and interested in everyone's lives. I had come to Melbourne with my sister Alison, and he was slightly shocked by us wasting money to come and see him. That's the way he saw it anyway. He gave us directions back to the airport so we could avoid paying the toll. He still liked to laugh and I don't think he felt haunted by death any more. He absolutely trusted those closest to him, Hilary in particular, that he would die at home, in peace and with dignity, that it would be alright. And it was.

He talked about his life, not with a rosy romantic glow, but with a sense of peace and fulfillment. It was all the mark of the person he was.

Bill will be greatly missed and greatly mourned, by his immediate family, his extended family, his tennis group, his other friends, his professional colleagues. He'll be remembered with great love by all of us here.

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