There is nothing like the bond that lives between kids and old people, and while I'm sure Bill would actively contest the idea that he ever reached "old age", the sentiment remains true. I couldn't put a name to it, but something special happens whenever memory and imagination meet.
I'm aware that many readers of The Penny Mint wouldn't have known Bill, but after hearing of his passing this morning I couldn't help but put pen to paper. Oddly, it seemed like the right thing to do, given that he was the first to ever publish my words.
Bill McPherson was an entrepreneur in the best sense of the word. At his birthday once, he described to me the ways he'd gained and lost a million dollars many times: from owning a nightclub, to working with computers, to being kicked out of and welcomed back into the Senior Citz centre many times (for, as he put it, "being too cheeky"), to building a Men's Shed from an empty old building.
I remember that last one actually. The old EPA building on Queen Street had been empty for a long time, and Bill wanted to put it to community use. My mum and I visited the place with him and frankly, it looked like a horror movie set. There were beakers smashed on the ground and dust was everywhere - and yet even while my Mum ushered me about, begging me not to touch anything, Bill saw potential in every room. It became the Men's Shed he imagined. It was a place where people could gather and build and fix and talk about the things they wouldn't talk about if they're hands weren't busy. Bill saw an empty building and made it a place for community.
That was kind of Bill's thing: building communities wherever they were needed. It's what I presume led him to the creation of the Around papers (Around Altona, Around Hoppers Crossing and Around Point Cook) where he eventually hired my mother as editor. Thanks to Bill and the papers, my Mum and I spent many of my childhood years meeting incredible community minds and hearing their stories. Bill taught me the power of community submissions. He showed me what good listening looks like and he always knew the value that lives in someone's story. Those are precious things I wouldn't know without him.
And yes, Bill and Around Altona were the first to publish my words. It's cheating because my Mum was the editor, but I'm grateful for the chance nonetheless. I'm grateful that someone built a space for me to share my barely-formed, unpolished writing and I'm grateful that my words always had a home there: from the kids page contributions I wrote when I was 7 to the articles that came long after.
Then there are the boxes of porcelain fairies. We can't ignore the boxes upon boxes of fairy figurines that live beneath my Mum's house: gifted to me by Bill over many many years. He always said I was an "angel" and, being somewhat of a collector himself, he passed on every winged creature he came across until I had a rather large collection of my own. In lieu of keeping every fairy with me (I don't have that much room in my house), I keep a small angel badge he gave me a few years ago. It came with a small poem - another hint, I feel, that he knew I'd become a writer - and I've been keeping it close by through the recent days.
I think Bill had fallen for the fallacy that "angels" are always smiling young girls. Sometimes instead, they're kind old men who are "too cheeky" for the Senior Citizens club, but just wild enough to think of grand ideas like community newspapers and Men's Sheds. Sometimes they pass on the principles upon which you build your career. And sometimes, unknowingly even, you start a writers' collective with their legacy in mind.
Vale Bill McPherson. Thank you for everything you’ve taught me.