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Microsoft word - ric_charlesworth.docInterview from “Fathers and Sons” by Christine Williams. Published by HarperCollins, 1996. Ric Charlesworth, sportsman Born in 1952 on the day King George VI died, Ric Charlesworth grew up in the Perth suburb of Dalkeith which at that time comprised the occasional house, with mostly bushland leading down to the Swan River. He played at swimming, climbing trees, building cubby houses, and making dams in the gutters of the dirt roads when it rained, while keeping an eye out for snakes, goannas and bull ants in the bush. As an
adult Ric has had several strings to his bow, as a medical practitioner, a Labor member of the
House of Representatives from 1981 -93, a world champion hockey player and coach of the
Australian Women's Hockey team. Ric's father, Lester, was a model for him, as a member of the
West Australian Sheffield Shield team during the 1940s, and in medicine, as a dentist who used
to do honorary work for the local nuns.
Ric Charlesworth: I remember going to his surgery and the smell being strange, of cloves and
antiseptic. Upstairs there was a flat and a small area of lawn out the back.
Christine Williams: What did you think about your father being a dentist?
Ric Charlesworth: Well my mother was a dentist too so it didn't seem unusual to me as a child.
She was mostly at home with my two brothers, my sister and me, but she did practice for a while
when I was at high school. I had fluoride as a child and had to clean my teeth morning and night.
We also flossed, which was unusual for the 1950s.
CW: Well, you wouldn't have had the fear that other children did at that period about
going to the dentist?
RC: I had apprehension about it and I heard stories, but my father was always very gentle with
me and I think he used extra xylocaine, the local anaesthetic. I felt reassured because it was my
father. Mind you it used to hurt a bit, but you try to be brave, don't you, as a little boy? I felt that
he knew what he was doing and I was safe. It wasn't a daunting experience because I knew he
was kind. He would say, "This might hurt a bit but then it will be fine", when the needle was
I also remember that my father was involved in the cricket club, and we used to have Christmas
parties at our place, and we'd have coloured lights all around the garden and a keg in the corner
and we'd run feral, rushing around, and I was allowed to stay up late. A lot of music and light, I
remember, and it was spectacular.
CW: You say your father used to do honorary work at the convent. Was yours a Catholic
RC: No, not at all. In those days, my father would go every week as honorary dentist to the
Home of Peace in Subiaco and to the sisters at the hospital. It was part of his voluntary work.
CW: Was your father religious?
RC: No, but he felt an obligation and he made a contribution. We were Anglicans. He didn't go
to church nor did my mother but they encouraged us to go to church. I wasn't christened until I
was eight, which was unusual. They forgot about me! I remember the fancy words and the
minister in fancy dress at the ceremony. I got dressed up and wore a tie, and had water
sprinkled on me. There was a sort of mystique about that. I never went much to church but was
encouraged to go. I went to a government primary school but followed my brothers in attending
Copyright Christine Williams 1996
Interview from “Fathers and Sons” – Ric Charlesworth, Sportsman
Christchurch Grammar, an Anglican private school. My brother was a server in the church so I
became one, and eventually became the head altar boy who organised the roster and knew all
about the vestments and used to go every week, right through until the end of high school. Then
I decided this was not for me, and I haven't been since. At high school we went to chapel every
CW: So your father encouraged you to go to church?
RC: Yes, but never went himself. And I remember he contributed money when they held a
doorknock, and he'd say, "I make a monetary contribution, but I'm not going to church". And I
thought that was fine.
CW: What was his attitude when you became more involved in the church at
RC: That was OK. It was my business. You see I can remember being about eight years old,
and thinking, "It's not bad at home, here. They feed me, they clothe me, it's warm and
comfortable and a safe haven. I can always come back here, but I'm in charge of my life". I felt
independent, and once I had a bicycle I went off on my own a lot. The streets weren't perilous as
they are now; there were lots of vacant lots; there was a lot of bush. I felt I was encouraged to
lead my own life.
CW: But are you a believer now?
RC: No, as I said, when I finished high school I thought, 'You're really not
into this - you're being a bit hypocritical', and I decided it wasn't for me.
CW: What about the moral values that come with religious observance? Did
you see those in your father or is there no association there?
RC: No, my view was that the moral values had value for your life, but the other stuff, the
religious protocol, put me off it, because I thought it was nonsense. When I was christened I
thought it was powerful and I was overawed by the situation but later that dissipated.
CW: Did you feel any morality come down to you from your father?
RC: I felt he was a good person, and as I grew up I saw that in his work: the fact that he did the
honorary work. There was a basic decency about him. He would pay bills as soon as they came
rather than sit on them and he was generous with his money. He had strong opinions, the same
way I tend to be opinionated, and he was always keen to argue his case.
CW: About politics?
RC: Well, politics is interesting because I eventually got involved in it. Our family was apolitical
but there was a lot of discussion at home about current events. In some ways my Dad was the
sort of person who was always against the government and, of course, the State and Federal
governments throughout my childhood were largely Liberal. I wouldn't know to this very day how
my father voted. I think he leaned to the left but he wasn't a socialist as much as a humanist. He
thought the state had a role to play in evening things out for people.
I think he was greatly influenced by his father who had been a teacher from a working class
background. Grandfather Oscar ended up being a headmaster of Mount Hawthorn school where
my father went as a boy. Oscar's father had been a sawmiller in the south-west of the state and
died in a mill accident when Oscar was only fourteen years old. So he became a school monitor
and was able to go on to become a teacher to help support the family. My father was born in
Kanowna, a gold mining town north of Kalgoorlie with twenty pubs. The family travelled all over
the state when my father was a boy.
CW: So he encouraged your father in education?
Interview from “Fathers and Sons” – Ric Charlesworth, Sportsman
CW: And your father encouraged you?
RC: Well, I was the youngest and my older brothers weren't as scholastic, so I think he'd given
up a bit. I never felt as if my father was looking over my shoulder, but I got a pat on the back
when I did well.
CW: Did your father ever sit down and help you with your homework?
RC: Very rarely. I might ask a question sometimes. But I think the discussion at the dinner
table was valuable. My father wasn't there when I got home from school; he didn't get home until
dinner time. I suppose that if I have a work ethic it comes from him because he was first up in
the morning, he'd make tea and breakfast for Mum and then went off to work at seven in the
morning and it was often dark when he got home. At weekends he worked on Saturday
mornings and on Saturday afternoon or Sunday he played golf so he wasn't at home a lot. I saw
as much of him on the golf course as anywhere because I used to pull his golf buggy. It was a
source of income for me.
CW: You got your interest in sport from your father?
RC: I suppose so, but everybody played footy and cricket and hockey back then. He certainly
showed me how to play cricket, along with my brothers, out in the back yard. And we kicked the
footy. He was involved in the cricket club at senior level after he finished playing in the [Sheffield]
Shield from 1948-52, and I remember going along and watching him play, after he retired from
competition. Usually they were charity games or ‘old players’ games.
CW: He must have shown you the skills of playing cricket.
RC: He did, and we practised it. For instance we had a ball on a string from the branch of a
tree, and he used to get me practising with one hand, the top hand dominant, that sort of thing.
He would stand and watch and direct me, after he'd got home from work. But I also played
hockey which he had not played so in a sense he knew nothing about that, but was supportive.
He didn't come and watch me much, as much as I take my son, or umpire sometimes, but that
never worried me because I didn't expect him to be there. But I remember playing football one
time at the oval at the top of our street and I looked and saw him watching. It was Saturday
morning and he was usually at work but must have come home early. I saw him sillouhetted
against the skyline and I remember liking the fact that he was there, and afterwards he made a
comment about what I'd done which was encouraging.
CW: Were you proud of him more as a dentist or a cricketer?
RC: I wasn't so aware of his cricket career because it was over by the time I became old
enough to know what it meant. But I remember going through his scrap book, for instance, and
asking him questions about it and he had lots of stories to tell.
I saw my father at his most competitive when he played golf from the time I was about eight. If
you liked, it was a healthy way to spend the afternoon being with these older men. You got to
hear their stories; I remember one of his good friends was an auctioneer, another was a
colourful football figure from a decade earlier. It was a real experience .
CW: It was a man's world?
RC: Mm. And I was part of it. Getting back to cricket, my father became a selector for Western
Australia and I went to the airport with him a couple of times to pick up visiting players. For
instance in 1961 when I was nine, three or four of the West Indies team came to his dental
surgery with caries. I remember throwing the ball to Wesley Hall out on the lawn at the back of
the surgery, and Rohan Kanhai was there. They were heroes for me. And I used to collect
autographs and Dad could get them for me when he went into the change room.
Interview from “Fathers and Sons” – Ric Charlesworth, Sportsman
CW: That put you at a high status compared with your mates, I suppose.
RC: Well no, because I'd mix with the kids of other cricketers. But at school it was a plus. And
now when I look back on it, the teachers at the school would have known I was Lester's son, and
they would have watched me as I developed at sport.
CW: What was your father’s experience of war?
RC: He was a dentist who became a captain and served in Western Australia at Northern
Camp, treating the troops and prisoners of war. During the 1950s you were regaled with stories
about what had happened, such as rationing at home, and it had a big impact on the way people
thought. I was taught to be frugal - it didn’t work!
CW: And apart from the hard times, what memories do you have of your father on
holidays, in leisure mode?
RC: My Dad was keen on camping and I remember when I was eight we went to Shark's Bay
and Monkey Mia where the dolphins are. We went swimming without bathers because there
was no-one else there. I remember seeing a stingray from the cliffs and there were so many fish
you didn't even have to try to catch them. We often went camping and he was into all sorts of
gadgets. On one trip he had a container with a mix of salt and ice to keep ice-cream frozen. I
mean you don't have ice-cream on camping trips, and it leaked and the ice-cream was salty. We
weren’t made to eat it; we just laughed about it. But if some gadget came on the market for
camping he had to have it.
My father was keen on fishing and we had a boat. We used to go for our holidays down the
south of Western Australia on the Murray River. We'd catch bream; my father taught me to fish.
And one day I caught a tortoise by mistake and threw it back in. My father liked the outdoors.
CW: Were there any times of conflict with your father?
RC: Yes. I remember getting a real hiding from him and I deserved it. He caught me stealing
loose change from a jar in his cupboard. He confronted me and I admitted it. It was like the
cuts: bend over, whack, whack with a golf club on my backside. But I thought I deserved it, and
it was a salutary lesson. That's the only time I can remember. Sometimes he raised his voice,
at times when he'd had a few drinks he'd be loud and aggressive.
CW: Did he drink much?
RC: After golf or cricket, yeah. I don't drink at all, for instance, and maybe subconsciously I was
affected, but he was a regular drinker and would become argumentative.
CW: Did he ever get drunk?
RC: He may well have, but I never saw him really drunk. He was always in charge. But if he'd
had a few I knew to tread lightly, I was wary. He smoked a pipe and cigars, which I also don't
do, but I used to love the smell of the pipe. He had a pouch of tobacco, and sometimes if he
was driving, for instance, he'd get me to fill his pipe. "Don't press it down too hard," he'd say.
CW: Was your father physically demonstrative with you?
RC: No, but he'd give me a hug sometimes. Sometimes on the golf course when I'd be pulling
the buggy he'd have his hand around my shoulder. I think I am much more demonstrative with
CW: As you got older, in your teens and twenties when you were still living at home, was
there much friction between you and your father?
RC: As a teenager I felt friction. He used to think that I was too confident, too arrogant, and he
was right a lot of the time. But that's a condition that teenagers go through. I think my father
was my harshest critic and also my biggest fan. I started to feel it as I got into my twenties. You
could say my relationship with my father deteriorated in my teens but he was still very proud of
me and supported me, even against the school on one occasion. I remember hearing him
arguing with a senior master at school on the telephone once.
Interview from “Fathers and Sons” – Ric Charlesworth, Sportsman
Then in my twenties I was at university and kept passing even though I had a very busy social
life and played a lot of sport, and he was supportive. Later he became more of a confidant, in my
early medical and sporting career, but he was dead by the time I was twenty eight. During the
last four or five years, our relationship had been a pretty good one.
CW: How great was the loss for you when he died?
RC: It was the worst time for a number of reasons, one of which was that he died very suddenly
and I felt responsible. Even today it concerns me. I don't lose sleep over it now, but I can dwell
on it at times. The circumstances were these:
It was January 1980, maybe New Year's Day, and I was about to go away on tour to Pakistan for
two weeks, in preparation for the Moscow Olympics. I was playing cricket down at the oval near
our place and Dad came down to watch me. He told me he'd had some chest pain, nothing to
worry about, he said, but I said he should go to the doctor the next day. After I got home that
night I rang him to reinforce the point. Anyway, I went off to Pakistan and the night I got home I
went over to see him. He was sitting on his bed reading while Mum was out in the lounge room
watching TV. He said he hadn't gone to the doctor because he was very busy at work and he
thought it wasn't important enough. Now, when any patient of mine would show symptoms of
coronary disease I used to say, 'If you were my father I would insist you go to see a specialist to
have your cardiac status assessed', and yet here was my father telling me not to worry.
I tried to get him to go the next day, a Monday. He wouldn't but he relented and said he'd cancel
golf the following Thursday to see a specialist if I organised the appointment. The next night I
was at a mate's place and got a phone call to say he'd had a heart attack and was on his way to
hospital. When I arrived, and this was the hospital where I'd been working the year before, I
rushed through to where he was surrounded by staff trying to resuscitate him. I was told to wait
in the relatives' waiting room and the doctor who was attending him - who was a neighbour of
ours, incidentally, a mate of mine who I played with as a child - came in and told me that they'd
CW: Are you left with the feeling that you might have been able to revive him?
RC: No. No. Not revive him but perhaps an earlier intervention could have made a difference.
But the autopsy showed that he had very severe heart disease, which suggests that he was
probably dead before the ambulance even arrived. And talking with his friends, the signs must
have been there for months before. The sister in his surgery said that sometimes when a patient
would cancel an appointment, he would lie back in the chair, close his eyes and touch his neck
to check his pulse rate, so his heartbeat must have been erratic. His bedside table drawer was
full of antacid tablets - he thought he was suffering indigestion. And Mum said he'd cancelled
his weekly golf game quite a few times in the last couple of months, complaining of tiredness.
Classical symptoms. He'd been a drinker and smoker all his adult life, and he was overweight,
so it might have been expected. And I was left with the guilt that I could have helped him. If
he'd had a bypass he might have lived another ten years. I was left with the feeling that I hadn’t
been strong enough or observant enough to see it coming.
CW: And how deeply did you feel the loss; how long did it last?
RC: Well, he died on the fifteenth of January and every year I remember that date, and ring
Mum to see how she is, wherever I might be in the world. She felt it most of course. Sometimes
she'd be out the back working in the garden at 2 am because she couldn't sleep. I had a very
active life at that period of my life: I had a young family and I went into Parliament in 1983. I
think the workload helped to pull me through. I had to keep working, and I was lucky that it was
something to focus on to keep my mind off his death. But it did affect me badly. I couldn't sleep
properly for months after, and normally I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. I felt a
great loss and, even now, I feel it. It was the worst thing that has ever happened to me and it
hurt most because I felt that he and I were growing closer together and he would have loved to
be around as my children were growing up.
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