There was barely a dry eye in the room as author and retired judge Nicholas Hasluck, launching his new book, re-lived the painful time he learned of the death of his brother Rollo.
What made our reaction a little unusual, perhaps, was that Rollo died nearly 50 years ago. Even so, as Nicholas spoke fondly of his charismatic, lively sibling, you couldn’t help but wish he was there to clink glasses with us.
We were at the Claremont Football Club, toasting Nicholas’s memoir, Rollo’s Way.
Perhaps it’s a measure of the mark this charismatic young man left on his family and friends that all these years later, he can still evoke such emotion.
And perhaps, in part, it’s due to the enduring love Nicholas so clearly still displays for his only sibling, taken away decades too soon.
While celebrating the life of the charismatic Rollo, “an adventurer brimful of bright ideas and his own way of going about things,” the book’s also a chance to re-immerse ourselves in Claremont and neighbouring suburbs as they were several decades ago.
Rollo’s life ended in June, 1973, when he was just 32 years old.
He had headed to Singapore for a holiday. Shortly before flying there, he’d told Nicholas, 18 months his junior, he’d be enjoying his trip away with some old school friends and that he hoped his cold wouldn’t set him back.
Sadly, by the time Rollo arrived in Singapore, the virus began to take a hold. He sought treatment at a clinic, then felt well enough to go and socialize a bar, where he later collapsed.
Nicholas’s diary of Tuesday, June 5, 197, records how late that night, his father, Australia’s Governor General Sir Paul Hasluck, phoned him from Canberra with the heartbreaking news.
“A message has just come through from Singapore that Rollo has died suddenly. Collapsed and died. Like that. The details are scant but it seems he went to a doctor for his flu. Later, in the bar of his hotel, he complained of feeling unwell and collapsed. Dad rings off. It is raining outside and it rains all night. I weep for hours,” reads the diary entry, in part.
Rollo had left behind a young widow Jill, and two little children, Melissa, seven, and Jeremy, four.
They were, naturally, all at the launch, along with Melissa and Jeremy’s younger sister Genevieve Farrell, Jeremy’s daughter Mimi, other members of the Hasluck clan, and a roomful of friends.
Melissa still harbours sad memories of the day she heard the news that Daddy had died.
“Though I don’t remember so much about my dad, there’s that grief for him that will never go. I’m touched and grateful that my uncle Nick has sought to remember him in this memoir.”
Proceeds from Rollo’s Way will go to the Royal Western Australian Historical Society.