Harry Docking


1932 – 2003

Eulogy delivered by Jim Docking.

Let me start by saying how honoured I am to do this Eulogy.

Most of what I am about to say was written a few nights after Harry made this request – It was how I felt at the time and it is not meant to exclude anyone.


Two big events occurred in 1932: The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened and Henry Lawrence Docking was born. Harry, as he became known, was a big baby, weighing in at 10lb 10 ozs. In fact, I believe the doctor thought twins were on the way. Harry remained big throughout his entire life – big in stature [6’3” and a bit (196cm)], big in adventure, big in honesty and generosity. He was the fifth born child of Amelia and Jim Docking.

I would like to share with you memories of his life as I recall them. Some memories may be clouded or exaggerated by passage of time, so please bear with me if some errors or omissions have occurred. No doubt there are fond memories from others that I know nothing about.

Harry and I shared a lot of good and not so good times together. We even shared a girlfriend at one time – although I only found this out recently. Sitting on his verandah last May he said with a wry smile on his face, Remember that girl who lived at the back of the Concord Golf Course, well Jim, while you were thinking of asking her out, I was taking her out. It floored me because apart from not knowing that he knew her, I thought she was too old for me and Harry must have been fourteen at the time, over two years my junior.

My first memory of Harry was when we were living at Suttor Avenue, Ryde. He would disappear for hours on end. He would cadge a ride with the local bus driver, baker, milkman, and even the night cart man. On these occasions Mum would come looking for him and my stock answer was that he was under the house playing with Dad’s yacht.

Harry was always interested in boats and at about the age of six, and with supreme confidence, we took the canoe he built and launched it on the Parramatta River. Alas, when we stepped into the canoe, it filled with water and sank. We saved ourselves and as far as I know, it is still on the bottom of the river. Naturally, his skills did improve later in life and I can remember sailing in one of his later creations, the 18’ skiff Brooklyn.

Our next venture was when Mum gave me the money to get our haircut. Harry rushed into the barbershop and instructed the barber, Cut our hair short, my Mum thinks I’m starting to look like a girl. Harry had long snowy curly hair as family photos testify. We were not too popular when we got home.

At about that time we went off to Ryde cinema to see The Wizard of Oz. Harry went missing and I thought he was up to his usual tricks and gone walkabout. He had actually been knocked over by a car outside the cinema and was in Ryde Hospital. Another way to cadge a ride, this time in an ambulance! His last ride was in an ambulance.

We then thought we could sell newspapers so wrote on the side of the house porch The Sun. Did we cop it that night!

Harry first went to school at St Charles, Ryde and no doubt, our sister Joyce can testify that Harry and I were always in trouble. She copped it from the nuns for our misdemeanours and lack of attention in class. Harry told me a few months ago that it had something to do with having to sit next to girls in class – how times changed over the years.

On our way home from St Charles we would pass St Margaret’s Mental Asylum where we would climb the high wall and walk its length. Harry being a fearless and friendly chap, would jump down (it was fairly high) and chat to the inmates. I stayed on the wall.

Dad used to keep a few chickens and had a favourite trick of, when we were in trouble, putting our head on the chopping block and announcing, with the blunt side of the axe on our neck, Do that again and I’ll chop your b……. head off, just like the chooks. One day there was a great commotion in the backyard with everyone rushing out to see me with my head on the block and Harry with the axe on my neck, threatening to chop off my b….. head off. Unlike Dad, Harry had the sharp edge of the axe resting on my neck. He was always bigger than me.

In our early days at Ryde the Ryde Bridge was built and during its official opening, as the centre span was raised, two little boys ran out from behind a girder and attempted to jump from the rising span to the main deck. Yes, it was fearless Harry and brother, Jim. I think Harry would have jumped.

The three boys in the family, John, Harry and I, all went to Christian Brothers School at Burwood for a time. When I got there, the brothers, to smarten me up, would say Why can’t you be like your brother, John? We can all imagine what Harry copped when he went there? Harry was always a bit of a rebel and found it a hard act to follow his two brothers and finally went to Rozelle Technical College where he was a lot happier learning carpentry skills.

In the early forties the family moved from Ryde to Concord where new adventures awaited us. We delivered newspapers and had a dog named Peter. One day the dog would follow me and the next day he would follow Harry. We became well known, mainly because of the dog – not much different in these later years when Harry and his dog were well recognised on their walks around Karuah. We also helped the local milkmen do their rounds and learnt a lot about life. You would be surprised at what you see at 5.00am, especially when people forget to put their milk cans out.

We used to caddy at Concord Golf Club and on one occasion, after both carrying two bags, earned over ten shillings each. On the way home, we were set upon by a group of boys and had to fight to keep the money. We were lucky that it happened near the North Strathfield Fire Station and the firemen came to our aid. For a while after that I thought Harry would become a fireman as he was always at the station.

Harry was always impetuous getting into many fights and often called on me to help him out. The only trouble was he always picked on bigger kids. However, he gave more than he got and he was not often beaten.  Later on in life he had many a fight not only in his own defence but also for his friends.

One day we decided to visit our friends, the Bucketts at Kurrajong. We got the train to Richmond to find that the connecting train to Kurrajong would not leave for another two hours. We decided to walk the seven odd miles along the railway track instead of waiting for the train. Along the track we became hungry and helped ourselves to oranges from an orchard. Unfortunately we got caught and thought we were in big trouble until the orchard owner, on hearing our story, gave us a lift to Kurrajong. Another way to cadge a lift.

Harry and I started our football careers together, playing for the 6st 7lb team at Burwood. We were not a very good team, mainly due to a foul up by the coach. 90% of the team were undersized and should have been playing in the 5st 7lb team. However, we did win one game and scored one try for the whole season. The try in question was controversial as I was the one who had toed the ball over the line, placed my hand over it just as Harry dived on it, and Harry was the one credited with the try. Even though I disputed the decision, it is long forgotten and I do forgive him for stealing my thunder.

A few years after our first football adventure we played against one another, Burwood versus Rozelle. I was about to score a try when I was tackled from behind a few inches short of the line. Yes, it was Harry. Should I forgive him?

We again played together for Concord Pioneers Under 19 Team and should ever a team have won a premiership that was it. Harry always claimed it was a bad mistake by the referee that cost us the final. His dislike of referees grew over the years.  His dislike for the referees probably stemmed from that game and having watched several games on television with him I could see that he continued to hold little respect for referees and their mistakes.

Harry went on to play for Toongabbie A Grade at the age of seventeen and acquitted himself well before joining Wentworthville in the early 1950’s. Harry played fro Wenty for several years and again was unlucky not to win a premiership. I was fortunate to play a season with Harry at Wentworthville and had some memorable games. I remember one game at Penrith being almost knocked out, and through glazed eyes, seeing Harry retaliate on my behalf. During this period he played several games for Parramatta in the lower grade teams.

Harry, as a footballer, was an attacking, running second rower, always a danger when he had the ball. I am sure he would have adapted to the modern game extremely well. Had he been born in another era with better coaching and the financial rewards available, he would have reached a much higher level.

Harry was a boy scout for a number of years not quite reaching the heights of Queen’s Scout but achieving most other awards. When he was older he joined the army reserve and obtained the rank of “Artillery Man First Class”. He took part in the peace time battle of Green Hill, which at the time was the biggest peace time operation in the southern hemisphere.

On leaving school, Harry served his apprenticeship as a shipwright at Garden Island Naval Dockyards. After completing his apprenticeship, Harry stayed there for a little time before going to work with Dad in the timber industry. I can remember spending some weekends with Harry felling trees at Gosford and Kangaroo Valley. It was hard work and at the end of the day we would load the logs on the truck and virtually ride back with them. By that means we would try to make ourselves comfortable among the logs and travel all the way back to Toongabbie. Times have changed. No one would allow that practice today.

Harry’s working relationship with Dad was very much a hot and cold affair. Harry finally left and took a job on the waterfront as a shipwright.

During this time he made an annual trip to Hobart to work on the apple boats, visiting me in Melbourne on the way. One day he arrived with his mate, Les, and left a car with us, but failed to tell me it did not have a reverse gear. The only way I could get it out of the back yard was to take down the rotary clothesline and drive it around the backyard.

Back on the Sydney waterfront, Harry had the opportunity to go to sea and gleefully took it. This kept him overseas for several years and anyone who has known Harry will have heard some of his adventures and misadventures. One afternoon in September at the Tea Gardens Hotel, Harry sang a rendition of “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. He was particularly vocal at the old tough and fair maiden sections.  That song and the ‘Wild Colonial Boy” sums up for me his time at sea - he should have written a book. With a bit of editing I’m sure it could have been a best seller. Maybe some of the escapades he experienced would have been censored but like the romantic image of the sailor he did have a girl or two in every port. 

One day I took a phone call from someone speaking in broken English but claiming to be Harry. He finally convinced me who he was by mentioning Kurrajong. He was in Hobart, paying off a ship and could I pick him up at the Essendon Airport.

Becoming a seaman started a new era for Harry. He worked on the waterfront and sometimes in the building trade. He then went back to sea and travelled to all those wonderful places some of us dream about.

He finally picked up a Swedish ship, the M. V. Andros, which was destined for the Melbourne – Osaka run. This meant I would see Harry every six weeks for at least a few days. When he first arrived back in Melbourne, I had a considerable bundle of his mail for him. He had been using my address to have his mail forwarded to. One letter I remember was from a Countess in Hamburg, wanting to know when he was coming back.

We had some great times together during his Andros days. He would often ring up and ask could he bring some of the crew out for a meal. He was a very warm person and my kids loved his visits, even though they couldn’t stand his snoring when he stayed overnight. No doubt, family and friends have had similar experiences.

When I was building our house, Harry spent several weekends helping. In fact, I can safely say he laid the entire timber flooring and was a valued assistant in many other areas.

One New Year’s Eve during one of the Melbourne visits, Harry met the late Myra Paul, and together they bought a property at Tintenbar, Ballina – a beautiful place with wonderful views and its own consecrated cemetery. Once the house was built he made everyone of his family and friends welcome at any time. Whilst he was there it was open house.

During his years at Tintaburra, he stayed at sea, but under difficult circumstances still managed to breed Angus cattle, German Shepherd and Rottweiler dogs. I have it on authority that he did breed some wonderful cattle and he received recognition from breeders in the Northern Rivers, which was not bad for a seaman. This change of lifestyle was amazingly successful for one who had no previous experience of life on the land.

There are two particular incidents I remember from those days. The first is that when I offered to go down to the bottom paddock to check some calves. Don’t forget the electric fence, Harry said. Down I go, crawl under it and get belted. Watch that I will on the way back. Sure enough, I return to the fence, forget all about the electrification, and get belted again. Harry laughed a lot, too

The second incident was when, fishing off the Ballina Bridge with Harry and my son, Gary, and with Sabre, the German Shepherd, on guard. Along comes a stranger, has a good look at us and veers away. Harry sees this and tells them not to worry about the dog as he is very gentle. I’m not worried about the dog, the stranger replies. It’s you, you big ox, you nearly ran me over the other day. Harry was speechless.

In those days Harry was not the best of drivers. Big difference from open sea to open road. Bob Wharton tells the story of the ride he had with Harry from Cronulla to Caringbah. The most terrifying few miles he has ever travelled. I can assure you he did improve in later years.

Things turned sour at Tintaburra with Harry forced to sell and moving to Mummulgum, which was another beautiful property but a bit isolated. He had imaginative plans for this place but circumstances prevented him from realising his dreams. With a bit of luck I am sure he would have succeeded.

His next move was to Casino where, as usual, he made a lot of friends. Again things did not work out as planned and he started looking around, eventually settling on Karuah where he also made many new friends.  I can assure you that he was very happy here. Sitting on his front verandah, he often remarked how peaceful it was, something we all agree on and it is sad that he did not have the chance to enjoy it longer.

Harry loved his sport and was well versed in all facets, even Aussie Rules Footy. Can’t understand the rules, he would say – but who does? He loved his Saturday afternoon in front of the TV watching the races and on odd occasions, backing a winner. His favourite was a ten unit trifecta. Not often they come in but boy when they do, he rejoiced twofold.

Harry often reminded me of the 1958 Melbourne Cup. We went to the course that day and on the way there all he could talk about was the twenty pound he was having on McDougall. By the time the cup was run I had convinced him that McDougall couldn’t win, so he put only two pound on the horse. Of course, McDougall won, beating my certainty. We had some other good days at other race meetings in Melbourne.

Being at sea a good deal of his life, Harry read a lot and he often surprised me with his knowledge on many various subjects. He was a great believer in the Union Movement and we had many a heated argument over various political situations. Harry always seemed to have the last word, so I guess he won.

Harry was a great strength to Mum and Dad in their last few years. He lived with them at Lucas Street, South Cronulla for some of that time. He nursed Dad in his last few months, for which the family are very grateful.

Harry was a very warm and generous person in many ways, and maybe impulsive. If we were to make the people pay throughout the world who owed him money or a favour, I am sure that we could all have a nice holiday somewhere.

To sum up Harry’s life, Harry never married but he had a great extended family in all his nieces and nephews. He loved them all and took a great interest in their education, sport and well-being. He loved a game of cards, especially with his sisters, Moira, Eileen and Marie. He always insisted that they cheated and having played with him, against them, and not often winning, I am inclined to agree.

My daughter, Karyn, when in primary school, once wrote a story about her uncle Harry. The teacher was most impressed and wrote on the piece of work Everyone should have an Uncle Harry.

A little while ago I read a verse to Harry and asked him that I repeat it today – he said “Yep- I’d like that” –  yep as only he could say that word.

  • Remember when I am gone away
  • Gone far away into the silent land
  • When you can no more shake or hold me by the hand
  • Yet if you should forget me for awhile
  • And afterwards remember, do not grieve
  • Better by far you should forget then remember and smile
  • Than you should be sad and remember all the while.

I ask you to remember when you can and smile.

Harry was a very much loved brother in-law, uncle, colleague, team mate and friend. He leaves us with many fond memories. May he rest in peace.

The Docking family, Joyce, John, Moira, Jim, Eileen, Marie, Claire, and Helen and their families, wish to thank everyone, for their support during Harry’s illness.

On behalf of the Docking family…

Jim Docking


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