1st February 1917 – 4th January 2012
Figure: Jack Cogan’s British Passport
Yesterday, 2 significant events occurred:
· my eldest girl Eve, had her 10th birthday
· my dad died at 94
The one thing I am most thankful for is that my dad still stayed himself, right to the end. He still had all his marbles and his sense of humour.
In fact a few days ago, a visit included my Greek mother in law Stavroula. She was rubbing dad’s back. He turned to me and said:
‘That’s nice. If your mother walked in right now, she would not be very happy.’
There are a few major parts to my dad’s life:
· His service station
· His love affair with cars and trucks
· His farm ‘Eden Valley Stud’
· His retirement… 30 years!
Figure: My dad’s life started in 1917. He was the oldest of 6 kids
Figure: Dad went to St Aloysius School down on the water at Milsons Point
Figure: Dad loved the fact that he watched the Sydney Harbour Bridge go up, day by day while he was at school
He went to school for a total of 6 years… he never even went to high school. (Which I believe he accredits as the secret of why he was so smart… something about ‘The University of Life’)
His dad was a builder, so his working life started helping his dad to build some buildings around North Sydney
Cogan’s Shell Service Station
Figure: Dad’s 1st business ended up being the 2nd largest service station on the North Shore of Sydney. He ran it for 17 years.
I asked him what his favorite thing about this time was and he said ‘the free milk shakes’
Figure: Dad joined the army and fought the Japanese in WWII
He spent most of his time fixing cars and trucks. I find it ironic, that his nemesis in the war was not the Japanese, but the mosquitoes. He nearly died from Dengue Fever in New Guinea.
His love affair with cars and trucks
He started with timber, then move on to Interstate.
Figure: He then ran a truck business with his brother Peter Cogan driving between Sydney and Melbourne… later Brisbane
Figure: They owned 3 semi-trailers between them and he was well on his way to becoming the next Lindsey Fox ….
Figure: …until one fateful series of days when all 3 were totalled (2 in 1 night)
Figure: He was always proud of his brother Peter who when on to found Cubico. Cubico trucks were the 1st freight company in Australia to charge by space instead of by weight.
His farm ‘Eden Valley Stud’
Figure: From there he decided to get a farm in Muswellbrook. Since he needed more space to park his ever increasing collection of broken cars. Dad is on the tractor and Doug Cox is on the left.
Figure: It was a empty farm, full of trees with the awesome feature of being a water front farm on the Hunter River
Dad was very fortunate to get the farm and it was only enabled by Peter Blake’s father (old Frank Blake) who went guarantor for the whole £ 12k loan.
Dad went to work chopping down all the trees for farming. Within a few years he was very proud to have the greenest farm in Denman, having built a huge underground irrigation network… incredibly under the whole farm.
Then he built a dairy…. then a couple of large hay sheds.
Figure: This beautiful city girl – Eve Cooper – started turning up to the farm with one of her friends. Shortly thereafter they were married.
Mum told me that she felt sorry for dad, all alone on this big farm, still a bachelor at 50 years of age.
When I asked dad about this, he said:
Your mother felt sorry for me…. on this big flash farm with a whole row of cars
Within a year Eve and Jack were engaged to be married and very shortly afterwards, my sister and I were born.
Mum and Dad gave us a great childhood on the farm… miles from the next farm….
My mum says she saved him from being a terminal bachelor. Dad disputed that
‘I was fine. I already had 200 females to look after before your mum came along” (the cows)
We milked cows at 5am in the morning – I thought I had it hard, but Dad had to do it twice a day. Everyday.
Mum didn’t know anything about cows when she came to work on the farm. They worked well together and mum became a breeding expert on “Friesian cows” (the black and white ones – the ones that produce the most milk).
She focused on the importance of purebred. She made sure that dad’s hard work was turning into record numbers for milk production per cow. She had cows that were continuing to calve and supply milk up to the age of 19 or 20 years.
Prices soared when mum was selling their 2 and 3 year old Friesian cows.
I learnt lots of things, Dad gave me a motor bike at 6 and a bomb car (a bomb is Australian for a wreck) that was mine to drive when I was 8. Those years were the happiest days of his life.
Dad had a large family, was closest to his Brother Bob Cogan. I always found this interesting because Bob was the youngest of the 6 kids.
Let me tell you the angriest I have seen dad. Bob’s son Benny – I always enjoyed time with Ben – came up to the farm with a boot load of rifles. All my experiences with my cousin Benny were fun and naughty and this day was to prove no exception.
One morning Benny and I went driving looking for rabbits to shoot, but when we couldn’t find any, we decided to shoot up a row of 30 of dad’s old cars.
We shot the headlights, the mirrors, the tires and the windscreens…. Boy was it fun.
That night after dad had seen our handiwork, dad came back to the farmhouse with steam pouring out of his ears. When asked for an explanation, I regret my answer:
“But they were only old bombs”
I only ever shot tin cans and rabbits from that day.
Jack Cogan’s rules of life:
Dad was a hard worker and if you wanted to get close to him, you had to help him work. Talk was minimal. During these times he only ever gave me 2 pieces of advice:
1. Never lend your money, car, or your wife
2. Never get that snip (I guess he must have had a bad experience with his vasectomy)
The dead eagle
I might just give you a couple of stories that, although he’d never admit to having made a mistake, these might go to show that he was not infallible.
Story 1: A elusive large eagle was killing our baby sheep and calves. One day, just after the Blake brothers had turned up, he caught a glimpse of this eagle and (as he likes to remind people) with one shot, he downed the eagle that was flying 100m above him. When it was shot, it plummeted straight down into the ground without a single sign of life. After they finished chatting for 5 minutes, he walked over to pick it up, and (despite the yelling/advice of everyone around telling him not to), he went to pick it up. The eagle came to life and using its inside claw, ripped Dad’s arm open, from elbow to wrist.
Story 2: Another incident that I didn’t witness but I heard about from many farmers, was dad standing over a wood chipper feeding wood into it, and, so the legend goes, it somehow caught a dangling piece of his overalls. A normal man would have been pulled into it and come out as spaghetti mince. But dad just stood there holding his feet as solidly as he could. It took just 5 long seconds for the machine to rip his clothes from his body, leaving him standing in just his boxers. He either had the constitution of an Ox with treelike legs… or else very warn out overalls.
But all good things come to an end and we lost our farm (resumed by the government) because they found coal under it. After the farm we moved to Belrose, NSW, where dad purchased a house from Kell Hutchence… and so that is how I got Michael Hutchence bedroom (from INXS fame).
Figure: Amazingly I got Michael Hutchence bedroom when we moved to Sydney.
After that we moved to Port Macquarie for my dad’s 1st attempt at retirement
Then it was back to the farm and then back to Forestville in Sydney
In Forestville, dad bought 3 timber weatherboard homes and decided that he would do an extension, country style. When he put his plans into council, they couldn’t believe it and because they were very concerned/disbelieving, they made him give a $30k deposit, that was only refundable if he completed the proposed work.
Figure: Dad had 1/2 of the suburb watching him the day he joined 2 houses together!
So out came his semi-trailer. He put one house on the back of it, reversed it round to join onto the back of the other house, and in so doing joined 2 small kitchens to make one large one, put the back house up on brick pillars, and brink veneered both houses as one. He then collected his $30k and never really finished the inside of the house…. which my mum reminded him about daily for the rest of his days.
The highlight of this time, for myself and my dad, was the evening visits from my Uncle Doug Cox. Dad and Doug loved chatting. They told me a few inappropriate stories for a 14 year old, that I believed as truth for years.
My dad was a firm man, from an older generation, who didn’t believe in showing affection… especially to men, and held dearly the value of hard work. To my constant anguish, whenever I would ask to go to town to play cricket or soccer, he would make me dig post holes. He said it was better exercise.
I am often asked how Louise and I both came to start our own companies…. I guess when you have seen your dad work hard… and never seen your dad work for someone else, it is natural.
Figure: Back to the farm to pick up one of the cars that hadn’t been shot up
One of the best times I had with my dad is when we went back to Muswellbrook together to pick up one of his old cars, bring it back to Sydney, completely disassemble it (and when I say completely, I really mean it, we even re-bored out the pistons) and put it back together.
It took a couple of months to do and at the end we still had one ice-cream container full of screws that we couldn’t work out where they should go. Dad said that was to be expected.
I took that car with thanks as it was my 1st car, but I drove it so hard and fast (it was before speed cameras) that it started coming apart. I was told I was a reckless showman that didn’t respect property. It is something I regret as I feel like I let my dad down.
His retirement… 30 years!
From that point on, my dad retired and spent his days, fixing the neighbors’ cars (for free, my mum will remind you), hanging out with his buddies at the RSL and then watching war movies.
Figure: James Snodgrass knew dad’s love language, ‘work’. Here he is at 15 years of age.
Figure: Who could have known at that time that his retirement would last an amazing 35 years… so long that he ran out of war movies and ran out of stories to reminisce with James Snoddy?
Figure: Ruby Cogan and Jack Cogan
Even more significant for me, is in his last years he shed some of his tough outer layers. He would come and visit the office each couple of weeks, have a coffee and give me a hug.
In the last few months of his life I got my first kiss from him. I especially loved seeing him give my little girls (Eve and Ruby) lots of hugs and kisses.
– – Rest In Peace dad – –
Interesting facts about Jack:
1932: Walked across harbour bridge when opened
|Cogan’s Garage:||17 years
2nd largest garage in the North Shore
Most milk out of one cow – Snowtrail
|Semi trailers lost:||3
Number of times he recited that story: 5000+
|Bad jokes told:||60 years|
|Mistakes made:||1 (got married too young at 50)|
| There was a girl from Nod,
Who thought babies came from God.
But it was not the Almighty,
Who lifted her nighty,
It was Roger, the dodger, the sod.
Figure: The joke that was told one too many times