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  • Geoff Cordner

The Things We Keep - Part 1

Updated: Dec 24, 2022

It is said that a movie is written three times. Once when the screenplay is first conceived of, and committed to paper (although there will almost certainly be multiple drafts). A second time when the film is shot, and the actors, the director, the wardrobe designers, the set makers, and the location scouts, amongst others, breathe life into those words on the page. And then again, during the editing process, when the musical score is added, and thousands of minute, but critical decisions are made about what footage is to be used, and how.

It seems to me that life is no different.

We live it first of all in our hopes and dreams and aspirations. When we foresee what might be possible for ourselves, if only we are brave enough, and fortunate enough to enjoy the support and encouragement of those we rely upon. Then we experience it for real - over thousands of identical, yet entirely unique periods of 24 hours; days full of laughter and sadness, fulfilment and disappointment, ecstasy and grief. And then finally, but just as importantly, we experience life through our memories of, and reflections upon all those moments passed. I can’t help but think that it is this third crucial phase that will determine the person we ultimately become.

It has been a bittersweet privilege following Ben’s death to immerse myself in his short but remarkable life. And if I had ever wondered in the past why we had kept old school workbooks and assignments, in addition to the regular reports, or whether we would ever look again at photographs and video footage chronicling our family's history back into the last millennium, then I need wonder no more.

Below are just a few samples of precious gems extracted from Ben’s bundle of primary school records.


My mum gives me lollies. My mum is good. She likes to go to the movies. I like to play games with my mum. I love you.

My dad has hair that sticks up. He is big. He cuddles me. He likes to watch football. I love him because he makes me happy and stuff like that.

I like 1. My mum, 2. My dad, 3. Myself, 4. My friends.

Dear family, I hope you have a happy new year. I hope you get lots of presents for christmas. I love you because you make me dinner.

(Grade 1)

On Saturday I was working on my project. It was hard and I mean very hard. I suck at projects.

(Grade 2)

My mum’s the best

One of the best mums

The one thing I love most

Her face is everything

Enjoys the show ER

Remember her no matter what

In July 2005, aged 7 years and 9 months, Ben completed a questionnaire I had prepared for both he and Tim, which was designed to provide us with a snapshot of their lives at that point. I suspect it had been my intention at that time to give them the same set of questions a few years down the track, and see how their answers compared. Although that follow-up never occurred, many of Ben’s original responses are worth their weight in gold today.

There were many answers we might have expected, like

My favourite things to do areplay outside and play PS2

My favourite sports arerunning and soccer

My favourite things to eat and drink arecoke, yummy juice, chocolate and friut [sic]

I like to readbooks

My favourite time of the year isChristmas becauseI get presents and

What frightens me most isthe dark

And there were plenty that made us laugh, like:

In the last year I have I’m in year two

I hateTim

This year I’m hopingthat Tim’s nicer

My mum iscool, My dad iscool, Tim isannoying

Life would be better ifTim was nicer

If I could be someone else I would be … [Ben’s friend] Michael because

he’s got everything and

People like me becauseI’m cute

And of course, there were answers that brought us to tears:

The most important thing in the world ismum and dad

For a job I want tobe like dad

I lovemum and dad

The best place in the world ishome becauseI’m save [sic]

If I could live anywhere in the world I would choosehome becauseits safe

But there was one answer that literally took our breath away:

I will get married when I am21 [crossed out and replaced with] 23

We could never possibly have imagined when Ben first handed that completed questionnaire back how eerily prophetic that crossing out would appear to us all these years later. Just another of the many many questions I would love to be able to ask my boy today.

In Grade 6 Ben was required to prepare a “Dossier” summarising his life to that point. Although the format and some elements, like the Family Tree, had been lifted directly from the Dossier Tim had prepared for the same reason two years earlier – one of the benefits of being a younger sibling! – a lot of the self‑analysis showed considerable insight for one so youthful.

His description of his own personality included the following:

I am a loud and joyful person

I am moody at times, but normally get over it quickly

I am an outgoing person who is sometimes a bit cheeky

all of which I would wholeheartedly concur with today.

And his acronymous description of himself



Neat – not!

Just a bit moody

A cricket lover

Many friends

I love soccer

Naturally argumentative

was, and remains extremely accurate from our perspective.

His plans for the future were, I suspect, pretty typical for an 11-year old sports fan, but also reflected his rose-coloured glass-half-full approach to life:

My major aspiration is to become a pro soccer or cricket player, but if it doesn’t work out I will need a job, so maybe a computer technician or photographer. Later in life I want to live in Ryde somewhere, buy a mansion and drive a sports car.

A piece of rhyming verse, also from Year 6, highlights Ben’s enquiring mind, and life-long pre‑occupation with otherworldly concepts. Entitled “What if?”:

What if aliens could tell the future?

What if we all had the same culture?

What if a baby animal slept in a cot?

What if there was a hover yacht?

What if people had no eyes?

What if the world had no lies?

What if planets weren’t round?

What if no-one could touch the ground?

What if people could breathe through gills?

What if war had no kills?

What if people had no feet?

What if nobody invented the seat?

No matter how challenging it may be to re-visit some of these writings now, the fact we are able to do so is clearly preferable to the prospect of not having such mementos to fall back on as time passes, and recollections dim.

Many people over the years have remarked to me that they believe I have an exceptional memory. I guess what they really mean is that there are things I have remembered at times that they do not. (In which case of course they only have my word that they happened at all!). This is unsurprising when you think about it. Each of us has had a completely unique passage through life, and accumulated, as a result, a completely unique set of experiences. And so, inevitably, our box set of collected memories will also be completely unique.

But just as there are things I recall that another person does not, even when those memories may relate to an event at which we were both present, so there will always be things others recall that have been lost to me over time – for reasons that neither of us are likely to be able to fully explain, even if we choose to try.

And although I have, in recent times particularly, come to appreciate that my memory is anything but infallible, of one thing I am absolutely certain: that my memories make me happy, and grateful, and they always will.


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