Nicholas Hasluck’s new book about his brother Rollo is a touching and absorbing memoir.
Rollo died unexpectedly in Singapore at the age of 32. To his many friends and acquaintances his death in March 1973 was mystifying.
He had gone to Singapore for a short break with three friends – and suddenly he was dead. No one seemed to know what had happened.
It was good to read in Nick’s account that Rollo had every possible help when he collapsed in a Singapore bar.
It seems he had a heavy cold, or flu, before he left Perth. On the day he died he was feeling too ill to join his friends on a planned bus tour.
He went to the doctor, was given some tablets and went to his room in the Ming Court Hotel.
Later, feeling better, he went down to the hotel bar, where he was joking with three Australian nurses when suddenly he coughed, gasped and collapsed.
Frantic efforts were made to revive him. One bystander gave him heart massage and another gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but by the time an ambulance arrived it was too late.
He had died of acute myocarditis, an inflammation of the muscles of the heart, which probably resulted from a virus infection.
Nick was in bed reading when the phone call came from his father, Sir Paul Hasluck, in Canberra.
“Rollo had died suddenly. Collapsed and died. Like that….” Nick recorded in his diary.
“It is raining outside and it rains all night. I weep for hours…He was meant to go for a little while but now he will never come back. Not ever…”
The brothers, so different in character, had always been close.
Nick portrays Rollo as a young man full of zest for life, enterprising, impulsive, always fun to be with.
As a schoolboy he scraped through his exams, more interested in sport and hanging out with friends than doing well at school.
“While I was studying, he was socialising,” writes Nick.
As an adult, Rollo tried to pack as much as he could into every hour of the day.
He loved Rottnest, and at the age of 20 bought a small launch, used for many a Rottnest escapade.
After trying a number of different jobs, he launched a variety of business ventures — a nightclub, a coffee shop and several land development projects, with varying degrees of success.
Nick, who had a stellar legal career and also became a successful novelist and poet, writes movingly about his feeling for Rollo:
“The love for a brother… comes from a shared experience and an outlook formed in the same era. It is different from other kinds of love because it’s in the background, continuous, and deeply akin to one’s real self.
“Brothers have no illusions about their respective characters, and thus are more tolerant. They are not as disappointed by one’s faults as others sometimes are.
“To lose a brother is to lose a part of one’s self that may not be given much weight by parents or lovers, and for that reason the loss is profound.”
Though Rollo’s Way is a very personal book, it is specially nostalgic for those who grew up in the western suburbs in the 40s and 50s.
Nick writes of fishing and crabbing from Claremont jetty, learning to swim at Claremont Baths, sailing on Freshwater Bay, hurtling down hills on home-made hill trolleys, going to Saturday afternoon matinees at the Windsor or Dalkeith cinemas.
Their father had grown up in the country and was keen for the boys to share his love of horse-riding and camping in the bush.
But the happy days of family holiidays and picnics were cut short in 1951, when Rollo was 10, when Paul Hasluck became a Minister in the Menzies Government.
He had been elected as the federal member for the new sear of Curtin in 1949, and then was appointed Minister for Territories, and later Minister for External Affairs.
In 1969 he was knighted and became Australia’s Governor-General.
“The pressure of world events kept him constantly occupied, including periods of travel to South-East Asia, London and New York. One can’t help wonderfing what effect a frequently absent father had
on Rollo during his formative years and early adult life,” writes Nick.
The publication of Rollo’s Way was celebrated at Claremont Football Club by a crowd of Hasluck friends and relatives, including Rollo’s widow, Jill, and their children Melissa and Jeremy.