I overheard the funeral service of Prince Phillip on Robyn’s phone. The hymn ‘for those in peril on the sea’ was what caught my attention. Churchill requested that the hymn be sung during his meeting with Roosevelt on board a battleship in 1941. I requested the hymn be sung during a memorial service mid-way across Bass Strait by a group of my senior students in 1985. Now remember my teaching role was to take school resisters and offer them something resembling a worthwhile learning experience in their final years. But hymn singing you ask? I can still picture those brawny youths standing around the piano at home while Robyn tried to get post-choir-boy voices into something like harmony.
Yes hymn singing. Well only one hymn, couldn’t let my music-teacher wife get carried away, and besides these school resisters had had a lot of practice at marching to the tune of a different drummer. Football was their thing not religious music, and it occurred to me that an activity that built upon their physical capacities would engage them, and the idea of crewing on two large ocean-going yachts had immediate appeal. It had also occurred to me that kids can learn surprisingly well if it is in a context, so sailing became a context for swimming and first aid qualifications, and a whole host of new skills for the trip. The hymn was to be part of a dawn service to honour the hundreds of lives lost on the coasts either side of a narrow strait between King Island, Tasmania, and Cape Otway, Victoria.
Nineteen eighty five was the 150th anniversary of the settlement of Victoria as well as International Year of Youth, both events offering funding for state or youth activities. The funding provided each crew member with a state-of-the-art life jacket, and a sweat shirt with the anniversary logo across the chest. Fortunately the life jackets were worn but never needed, and unfortunately the sweatshirts were worn and resulted in the entire memorial service ending up on the cutting room floor. The morning of the service was shrouded in a heavy sea mist, and the white sweatshirts meant that everyone looked like ghosts making a white trail on the film with every movement. Not a good look at all. Twenty odd ghosts in the mists at a service for lives lost at sea looked too perilous indeed.