Though its fair to say my father and I had a disjointed relationship which was mainly my fault, I am none the less very proud of his achievements. Perhaps chief among them was to overcome a pretty shitty childhood to become an Admiral in the Navy and the Chief of the Defence Force in Australia. He was also the first person to have received all three Australia Medals the AM, AO and the AC. By any measure he was a very successful Naval Officer.
He lived with his grandparents in Boolaroo on the outskirts of Newcastle. He joined the Navy at 13 having won a place on academic merit. He didn’t take to the Navy straight away and on his first visit home, begged his grandparents to allow him to return to Newcastle. many hours of talk later, they agreed that if he went back to Naval College for just one more term and still hated it, they would allow him to come home. So with a heavy heart he boarded the train from Newcastle to Melbourne to attend another term. In the course of that term, both of his grandparents passed away, making the Navy his legal guardian.
There is a popular saying about burning all your bridges, which would be apt in this situation. He went back to college in 1948 and did what any boy with no options would do, worked his arse off. He graduated in 1951 topping every subject bar one. He was also the smallest graduate in his year not hitting puberty for another year and very late compared to his peers. So he was very short and a smart arse.
A few years after graduating from Naval College he was holidaying back in Newcastle when he met Noreen, a young teacher in training from Waratah. The story goes, that they met twice before Alan had to scoot away to do a training stint in England. They wrote to each other, and the next time they saw each other was at the church for their wedding. Crazy right? But it was a marriage that worked and stood the test of both time and the Navy, which meant a house move every two years or so for the next dozen years.
My big sister Megan was born in Melbourne, I in England, my sister Melissa in Scotland and my little brother Mitchell in Sydney. Girl, boy, girl, boy, all about two years apart and all with the same initials. MLB. How very military.
Somewhere in the middle of his career, something went wrong, I think it was when his ship reversed onto a buoy in Hong Kong Harbour, but I may have that wrong. I do know that he was told he would never be promoted and indeed watched his term mates all be promoted ahead of him and in one case promoted twice. But he hung in there, learnt some languages in his spare time and waited.
My mother died before she ever got to see him attain the rank of Admiral. As any son of a successful man will tell you, at some point there is some adjusting to do. I believe my father saw so many of his own personal attributes mirrored in me, which was naturally a source of great frustration for him. But we are people of different eras, of different circumstance. This got in the way of us having a strong bond unfortunately, but it doesn’t alter my appreciation for his amazing grit and determination and an incredible Naval career.
Admiral Alan Lee Beaumont AC RAN died of Lung Cancer September 21 2004.