Proxy Families 1992-2008

Working with the Salvation Army

Our first decade on the Gold Coast was relatively uneventful.

Three sisters Maureen, Babe and Jen as well a mum were now living here so this became the base for clan activities. Sam was overseas on postings - Indonesia and Thailand; John still in America, Greg in Tumut, Sue in Townsville.

Carmel got a steady job with the Salvation Army - Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Unit. For me it proved pointless to get a salaried position. So I tried a succession of self employment interventions.
In a sense I was buying a job.

Sisters for Emma

We purchased a house at 30 Sweetgum Street Ashmore.
It was a larger than usual house as we had the intention of offering
Home Stays to international students.

We jumped in and committed to three girls.

  • Gabrielle from Surabaya, Indonesia

  • Christine from Singapore, and

  • Salma also from Singapore

Christine stayed four years, Gabrielle three years and Salma - almost three years.

Emma ,Christine, Mohan & Paul

In this period Sweetgum Street was "Open House". The girls, their friends, boyfriends etc would convene Chez Sweetgum. Emma was invited to soirees, parties, picnics and celebrations. It was multinational: Indonesian; Singaporean Chinese; Singaporean Malays; Japanese; Thais.

Buffet next to the Pool

Emma and Gabrielle in Surabaya, Indonesia

Gabrielle took Emma to Surabaya for Xmas holidays. Emma was 16. I believe she was treated very well by Gabrielle's family who I had met (see Surabaya below).

Gabrielle's, sisters (two), mother, father and matriarch grandmother visited the Gold Coast to attend her graduation at Griffith University. We took photos lots of photos.

Carmel and Emma were guests at Christine's wedding to Mohan. While both were catholic, Chistine was Chinese and Mohan Indian.

In later years we downsized to one student per year a girl (Miranda Lee) from Singapore and a girl (????) from Indonesia. The latter was pregnant. Her husband Budywan (Budi) arrived from Indonesia latter. He was enrolled in an aviation course.

Both were devout Muslims but worldly smart and a credit to Indonesia.

The Pork Pan

As for Salma (also a Muslim) our solution was to have a dedicated cooking pan and a few utensils set aside if and when we were cooking pork.

We met many of their friends whom you could see were enjoying their in-country experience and would be returning as Ambassadors for Australia.

Their infant died at childbirth. They buried him in Southport cemetery. As much as we were proxy there would have been no substitute for close family at this time.

With Emma's Big Sister

Walk on the Wild Side

"Hey Honey, Take a Walk on the Wild Side"

Like the singer/writer Lou Reed, I must have been smoking dope when I took up the following cudgel:

In 1995, French president Jacques Chirac’s government decided to run a nuclear test series at Mururoa in the Pacific Ocean.

There was worldwide protest particularly from Australia and NZ.

I recall a slogan "Do it in your own back yard"

I took it personally. In part because it was, indeed, Australia's back yard; because I understood the fragile ecosystem of a coral atoll environment after living in the Cocos Islands but the real reason was there was no need.

All nuclear powers had agreed to a comprehensive test ban to be in force in 12 months - hence the testing was pointless.

I also recalled Emma (aged about 8) having breathing problems whereupon our GP recommended a visit to a child psychologist. It turned out that she was terrified as to the doomsday nature of nuclear weapons.

So, I decided to do something about it.


I sent a personal fax to Mr Chirac c/- the French Embassy in Canberra along the following lines:

Dear Mr Chirac

I am a very proud Francophone having lived in your wonderful country for several years .

My uncle was a soldier in the Great War and he died there along with 50,000 fellow Australians.

I notice how grateful the French are, even today, for this sacrifice and the importance France gives to public acts of appreciation.

But I hear on the news that your government ...

This is not the act of a neighbour ... the damage to the environment ... frankly there is no need.

So I will close now hoping that you will reconsider.

Yours sincerely



Dear Mr Chirac

Maybe I did not make myself clear ...


Hey Dickhead ...

You are pissing me off as well as a lot of Ozzies and Kiwis ...



The Right Hon Mr Paul Keating

Prime Minister of Australia

I observe in the media that your government is as angry as I am about the incalcitrance of Mr Chirac in not stopping nuclear testing in our back yard.

Let’s do something to stick it to the French.

My Uncle died in the Great War in 1918.

He was awarded a Military Medal for bravery at Ypres in neighboring Belgium.

He is buried in a war grave in France not far from the border.

As a symbolic protest, I want you to dig him up and plant him in Belgium.

in doing so, I believe the French would be mortified and it seems to me that such a strong symbolic action is now warranted.

...Several months later (after the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was in place) a letter arrived from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet:

Dear Mr Malone

The Prime Minister, Mr Paul Keating, has asked that I respond to your letter of ....requesting that you dig up Private John James Stuart ...

Under section ?? clause ?? sub paragraph ??? of the Commonwealth War Graves Act it is an offence to desecrate a grave site ... so we cannot accede to your request.

You should know that despite this setback our bilateral relations .... exported ???? tonnes of apples ... pears and bananas.



First Assistant Secretary

"Hmmm! Yeh! I used to draft such letters"

Emma's School Graduation

Paul Navarro

Emma's 21st Birthday Celebration

2001 Sept 11

Everybody remembers where they were at this momentous time.

I was our home at Villas Monte Carlo (Surfers Paradise).

It was just past midnight. I was still up - watching TV.

There was an historical documentary about the Rumble in the Jungle where Muhammad Ali was boxing against George Foreman in the Republic of Congo (Africa). I was a big M. Ali fan.

There was footage showing Ali fooling around (as he usually did) in the interior of an aircraft that was flying to the Congo. Sub titles began to flow across the bottom of the screen. ... Planes crashes into World Trade Centre Tower in New York... I took little notice thinking it was part of the script and Ali would do or say something outrageous to put the sub titles in context.

For the next 10 minutes or so this message appeared again and again until the ABC patched into the American network.

Then we got pictures followed shortly by sound. One building was smouldering. The commentator was winging it. The second aircraft had not appeared.

I watched and watched - mesmerised.

I do not know what time I awoke Carmel. Part of me suggested I spare her anguish. Part of me said otherwise.

The next day I broke down when I saw replays of firemen rushing in while others were rushing out of the building.

Offer of Assistance

We were now in the internet age.

Unlike "a walk on the wild side " in my letter to Paul Keating, I was serious when I emailed the US Ambassador in Canberra.

I expressed my personal sympathy about the attack.

I went on to state that desperate times need desperate methods.

I pointed out my experience in SE Asia and personal concerns of underground cells of ratbags operating in regional affiliated cells. I suggested that over the years I have developed a network of some really true Muslims (the likes of Budi) who have studied in Australia and are appalled at the actions of these nationals who killed in the name of Allah. This cadre should be recruited clandestinely to identify and ferret out such cells.

No response!

Ten months latter, we had the start of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist attacks.

Brisbane 2002-2005

Southbank Campus Apartments

Carmel and I were engaged as a couple to run Southbank Campus Apartments - a purpose built student accommodation complex close to the CBD and universities. It was a 200 bed establishment that catered for international students.

There were all nationalities. Carmel and I were in our Comfort Zone and we became proxy mum 'n dad again.
got paid to do something that we loved.

Living in the inner City had its good and bad points. We could not open the windows due to the amount of soot from the traffic. There was noise 24/7. On the other hand we were close to the State Museum; Public Art Galleries and State Library as well as the magnificent Southbank Parklands which had been laid out for Expo 88.

The American student cadre was something we had no prior experience. Rich kids who were part of a semester Exchange program. They had passed the moment they had paid their course fee to the university. From then on they treated the complex like Club Med.

One true story.

The briefing for the intake went to plan and off each person went to their allocated apartment - 3 or 4 beds to a unit. About 15 minutes later a young man came back. He had one of those Alabama accents.

"Aah'm sorry to inconvenience yah but aah cant seem to get the TV to work. Aah can only get five or six stations"

The building was before its time in terms of providing a broadband internet service to patrons. For me it was the beginning of understanding IT network systems involving switches, servers TCP/IP etc.

Along Came Dylan Anthony Navarro

Born 2 March 2002

Proud Father: Paul Navarro

Proud Grandparents: Carmel
Antonio & Merta Navarro

2005 - Scammed

Our superannuation portfolio had steadily accumulated and we thought we had invested wisely.

We did not. We lost over half our nest egg in various ventures that, put simply, were Ponzi Schemes for which there was no safety net provisions.

I chose not to think about it as I knew depression would set in. Yet we had to climb out of this financial abyss.

I was aged 60 over-qualified and unemployable (Carmel aged 55).

Dylan and Daniel Navarro

2005 - Delivering Daniel Paul Navarro

On the bright side, another grandson, Daniel Paul Navarro (Dan) was born on Friday 16 September 2005 around 6am at the Gold Coast hospital.

At the time, we were in Brisbane doing a Management Rights locum for Jennie & Peter Kennedy.

Paul Navarro (Emma's husband) took a chance that Dan would be a full term baby and undertook a short haul trip that due to delay had him stuck in Melbourne.

Around 9pm on the Thursday, Emma rang us to advise that her “water had broken” and she had organised for Greg Grieve to get her to the hospital and take care of Dylan.

This set Carmel off. We drove down straight away and got there before midnight. Her first words were:

Where’s the doctor

He’s sleeping - don’t worry” said the only nurse on the ward.

So every time thereafter when the nurse returned to check on Emma’s progress she was greeted with the same question.

In the meantime, a gritty Emma was crossing her legs in the vain attempt at delaying tactics so that Paul could catch the first plane in the morning.

In the very early hours of that morning, I went to find a coffee.
I came back to the ward to be greeted by the nurse at the office-station. She had a curiously benign smile on her face as if to declare she had seen it all before.

Don't be alarmed” she said “Your daughter is doing fine - but your wife has fainted

So … the next few hours saw me pivoting from one bed giving support to a women in labour and the next room to a nonsensical woman muttering “doctor … doctor”.

Around 5am, Daniel was coming despite Emma’s procrastination. She sat sideways on the bed; I assumed a position behind her supporting her back with my arms/hands under her armpits and then back over her shoulders ready to maximise Emma’s pushing whenever the nurse commanded her to do so.

Carmel had “recovered” and was sitting in a visitors chair. No time now to ask the whereabouts of the doctor.

  • Out popped Dan;

  • Snip went granddad on the umbilical cord;

  • In ran a breathless Paul Navarro;

  • Relief” sighed Carmel