A few weeks ago I recorded and podcasted a chat I had with George Seddon on my back verandah in Fremantle, Western Australia. He lived six or seven houses away from me, in another old, limestone house in central Freo. Now and again he’d come over for a cup of tea, and a talk about our mutually shared bioregion, and matters to do with culture and the environment. More than any other person in Fremantle, perhaps even more than any other person in the whole of the country, George was a wealth of knowledge when it came to the geological and biological identity of south-western Australia, and Australia more broadly. He loved to talk, and had a cultured accent, and a measured, yet good humoured approach to conversation. He’d written a large number of books and articles, something he didn’t mind letting people know about.
A couple of days later I bumped into George on the street walking up the street next to the playing field around the corner from our houses (below John Curtin high school). George always seemed a bit frail and preoccupied. We exchanged a few words, and said goodbye – he touched me on the shoulder in a rare show of physical affection. Three or four days later George died.
There were things that irritated me about George. Mainly his seeming lack of interest in the doings of others – most of his conversation was about himself, and his lack of humility when it came to talking about his own academic achievments – he was always telling me about various articles and books he’d published. We had different interests as well: he was much more interested in the scientific details of the natural world than I am, and had less of a clear interest in fighting environmental destruction. However, despite this I feel sad that I will never be able to walk around the corner and talk to George again. The finality of death has served to emphasise all that I did admire about the man and his intelligence. Through his books he more than anybody else has taught me about my home place, the soils and plants of the Swan Plain around Perth. Being 80 years old he was a bridge for me with the past. I feel like I’ve thought, read and lived a fair amount, but when George was my age it was the late 1950s! He carried a lived knowledge of a lot of the twentieth century to our conversations in 2007.