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Clarrie Handreck (1936–2009)

by Graeme Cook, edited by John Noack

Clarence Paul Handreck was born on 16 September 1936 in Murtoa in Victoria’s Wimmera to parents Alma and Bill Handreck. He married Helen Lees on the 22 December 1962 at the Lutheran Church in Mildura and they had three children. He died on 20 July and his funeral took place at 1pm on Friday 24 July 2009 at the Heritage & Heritage Chapel, Wantirna in Victoria. The Celebrant from Everclair Celebrants was Mr Graeme Cook on Tel. (03) 8822 3733.

Although Clarrie’s funeral was the final stage in his life, it was also an opportunity for his relatives, his friends and his colleagues to celebrate Clarrie’s rich and rewarding life and to provide the story of Clarrie’s life and achievements.

Clarrie’s Story from September 1936

The funeral celebrant Graeme Cook presented Clarrie’s Story, which he based on Clarrie’s own recently-recorded recollections.

Clarence Paul Handreck, or simply Clarrie, as we all know him, was born in Murtoa in Victoria’s Wimmera on 16 September 1936 to parents Alma and Bill Handreck and he was a baby brother to Les, Stan, Lorna and Alf. The 3 eldest siblings have all passed on but Alf was at the funeral.

When Clarrie was only 3, the family moved to Sunny Cliffs near Red Cliffs and a year later moved to nearby Cardross, where his father managed a dried fruit block. On his 6th Birthday, Clarrie began his lifetime of education at Cardross Primary School and completed Prep and Grade 1 in the remaining Term of that year.

The life of a blockie and his family was a hard one indeed and Clarrie learnt from a very young age the value of honest toil, for there was work to be done all year round: cultivating, fertilising and harvesting of grapes, all with little mechanical aid; the drying and packing of fruit; smoking the vines to fend off the winter frost; and naturally the watering, with the irrigation system then being looked upon as an agricultural marvel, that ironically for Clarrie, is now seen as an environmental nightmare.

You would bake in the heat of the day and risk chilblains on winter mornings as you smashed the ice on the horse trough with your hands and in the various homes the family lived in, it was a while before they even had running water. The integrity and hard work of his parents, in particular his Mum, no doubt formed the work ethic he became so well known for. His and Alf’s workload increased as their siblings went off to serve in World War II but they did have the benefit of Stan’s 1926 Willys Overland, with its running boards, hand throttle and occasional loose wheels.

Clarrie’s father’s osteo-arthritis eventually brought them into the town of Mildura, their first real home in 14th Street. By this time, Clarrie was a student of Mildura High School, where over his 6 great years there, he excelled at pretty much everything, as he travelled the path through his Proficiency, Intermediate and Leaving Certificates, as well as winning Tennis tournaments, becoming Deakin House Lieutenant, then House Captain, a Prefect and on the football and tennis teams. Fifth Form saw him take out the Melbourne Shakespeare Society’s 1st Prize in the Statewide examinations for his work on Richard II.

Clarrie actually failed the following year, having chosen the wrong subjects and admitting to too many extra-curricular activities; for he was also Head Prefect, House Captain and Captain of the Football, Tennis and Baseball Teams! Through his High School years, specifically to help out the family, Clarrie had also worked labouring on fruit farms around the district, with lots of part-time work with Alf, who managed Snow’s Men’s Wear, which later became Roger David.

Teacher Training in 1954

1954 saw the beginning of his Teacher Training at Ballarat. Here he continued his scholastic excellence to attain his Primary Teachers Certificate, winning the Ellwood Prize as Dux of his year and the shock of a 100% score in music, before carrying out his National Service in 1956, where even there he attained rank.

His first School was back in his home town of Cardross, teaching his own Niece, then to Carwarp, a Rural School of one room, one teacher and a handful of pupils from Prep to Grade 6. In his 4 years there, Clarrie watched the enrolments treble from 8 to 24! Traditionally, Rural Teachers were boarded with pupils’ families on a roster system and he was generally looked upon as a “necessary evil” but a valued part of the community regardless, and also the 1958 Best and Fairest for the Irymple Football Club.

Carwarp was followed by a stint at Preston State School as a Grade 3 Teacher and the shock of 40 pupils to a class! Through all of this, Clarrie continued to study and gain further qualifications in his own time in Geology, Botany, and Zoology and still found time to play for the Preston VFA Football Club.

In 1962, Clarrie’s career path altered, becoming a Teachers’ College Lecturer for the next 13 years, with a specific focus on training future teachers of Rural Schools. During his first Term, Clarrie found himself struck by the presence of a visiting History Teacher across the dining room. In the 2nd Term, he came across her once more and was similarly affected. Clarrie knew that this was no fluke and life changed from then on. That lady was of course Helen Lees. After a whirlwind romance, the pair wed on 22 December, 1962 at the Lutheran Church in Mildura. Helen’s family had all made the trek up to Mildura, since Clarrie’s father could no longer travel. With no thought to distance, Clarrie and his bride then embarked on a honeymoon to Apollo Bay!

43 Ireland Street Ringwood in 1966

Living first in a shared house with Mavis Canty, the couple became a family the following October with the arrival of Paul. After that, they moved to a Department house in the wilds of Newlyn, along with plenty of wood-chopping, before obtaining a house in Sebastopol, a suburb of Ballarat. Whilst work and studies continued, achieving Departmental promotions as well as furthering his University Degree, a block was purchased in Ringwood and a house built there. They moved into it during 1966, before the birth of Karen in the following January. No 43 Ireland Street was to be home from then on with the family growing to completion in April of 1968 with the arrival of Carl. It was also comfortably close to the Lees family as well.

Clarrie recalls with relief that 1971 was the first year without formal study and exams for a very long time. This allowed a little relaxation in life, the ability to dedicate more time to his children and to truly enjoy their growing up. Clarrie had been working at Melbourne Teachers’ College, then Toorak Teachers College, until he brought his lecturing and training days to a close at the end of 1974.

Forever a teacher at heart, Clarrie quickly assimilated back into the Teaching Service, first as Vice Principal at Donvale Primary, then as Acting Principal for 2 years. 1983 saw Clarrie become Principal of Upper Ferntree Gully Primary School, remaining there, amongst staff he so admired until his retirement in October, 1991.

Family holidays were many enjoyable caravan trips to Merimbula and Clarrie’s love and enthusiasm for the environment readily spread to all his family. He had a distinct passion for reefs and tidal areas and the living treasures contained therein, along with bush-walking and birdlife as well. Every outing was organised so that not a minute was wasted. The family especially enjoyed the marvellous Long Service Leave trip up to Queensland, especially reuniting with Clarrie’s sister Lorna, and all the magnificent wildlife encountered on the way. Clarrie and Helen travelled overseas too, to France and to the UK in ’89, then East Germany in 1994, tracing back Clarrie’s Wendish roots from 1858 and in 1996, they once more enjoyed Europe and toured through the U.S., visiting Karen there.

Clarrie’s Sporting Achievements

Sport had always played a big part in Clarrie’s life, from his first win in a swimming race, hilariously dogpaddling the Sunraysia District Schools’ 25 metre race across the Cardross Swamp, to later becoming a qualified swimming instructor for his pupils at Upper Gully.

From first learning the basics of tennis from Murray Gebert at Mildura High, Clarrie was a competitive player through to the 1980s, when his eyes began to let him down.

Starting with Cardross Primary in Grade 5 and practicing stab passes with Alf on the dirt oval, Clarrie played footy with distinction all the way through to playing for Preston in the VFA.

Far fonder of Baseball than cricket, he played at Mildura and then for the Ballarat City Club. He was a pretty fair pitcher, a skill no doubt honed from throwing clods of dirt at vine posts with Alf as a youngster.

Clarrie also went through table tennis and squash and loved the camaraderie and exercise, but he found a true passion in Golf, joining Croydon Golf Club in 1977 and playing until the cancer shut him down in 2001.

As fair-minded in sport as he was in all things, Clarrie never really supported any particular teams, but just admired a game well played. As youths, Clarrie and Alf had once travelled down overnight by train from Mildura, in order to stand in the queue for an MCG Grand Final and spend the day as part of the mass of 100,000, before making the long slow trek home again, exhausted. The teams and players are long forgotten but the thrill of that day never diminished.

Accepting and patient, Clarrie would talk to anyone and he put his faith in some unlikely folk at times, but never with poor judgement. Poor attitudes to the environment angered him, as did self interest and inequality, along with the frustration of bureaucracy, for he saw the whole World as a community.

Clarrie was always interested in how the country was run and his strong political views had seen him most active in days gone by, fighting for equal pay for women Teachers with the Victorian Teachers Union, several times holding office.

His sense of humour though, was elusive, subtle and unpredictable, encompassing everything from a cunning play on words, to a golf ball in the head.

All that he learnt, he taught, for teaching was more a calling than a profession, and the importance of education was without question. Clarrie was indeed most proud of the scholastic achievements of his 3 children and their gift of music, through a life of patience, understanding, and guidance from both he and Helen. He was to his children both a father and teacher, and so very proud of their choices and directions in life. He admired in them, the gifts and talents he didn’t have, and naturally gave them the desire to please him.

Clarrie’s Retirement in 1991

Retirement in 1991 allowed Clarrie to further his marine and wild-life passions, in all its many facets, as well as enjoying theatre, ballet, concerts and the opera. Golf was also a regular past-time that he always enjoyed. He and Helen, through all their years together, complemented each other so very well and they were proud to see their efforts and skills blossom in their children.

Karen had brought grandchildren into their lives and a generation’s history was repeated as Clarrie as a Grandpa, played ball games, cards and delved into rock pools with Antonio, Alexander and Angelo, just as he had done with his own children. However, his health was diminishing, for at the end of 2001, prostate cancer was discovered and it had already spread to other areas.

Undergoing all the hormone and radiation therapies, Clarrie continued with his same go-ahead attitude and still managed an impressive body of work in all the things he held dear. This was due in particular to his distinct ability to inspire people, to gather the right people in to the right roles and to assemble the best group of skills for a project. Often, he would do a great deal of the legwork, in his role as the ultimate facilitator.

Clarrie’s Final Days in July 2009

With so much care and support from his beloved Helen and all of his family, Clarrie continued on at home, managing well for as long as he was able, up until his care requirements saw him enter Wantirna Health several weeks before his death. Clarrie was surrounded by those people dearest to him, amidst an aura of devotion and care, when on Monday night, 20 July 2009, Clarrie finally found the peace he sought; his troubled being relaxed and his laboured breathing finally eased, with Helen and their children lovingly at his side. As beautifully as he had lived, Clarrie, mercifully and calmly, moved on.

The family extended their heartfelt thanks to all at Wantirna Health Palliative Care for the outstanding care, support and dignity so freely given to Clarrie in his last days.