Keeping his name alive

Obituary for Robert Edgar: 17-5-1954 to 22-9-2009

Oituaries are usually written for those that have established themselves as of merit in the community; a life to aspire to. But what of someone who did not rise high above his demons, from whom others might feel entitled to withhold their respect? Who will speak to keep his name alive? I will.

I will write of Robert Edgar, born May 17 1954 to Thomas and Eileen Edgar in Brisbane. With a voracious appetite for knowledge and a sharply detailed memory, he was in trouble at school only for correcting teachers. But the schools in Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland were well below the par required to stimulate such an inquiring mind. He left school early and came to northern NSW for the Aquarius Festival and the blossoming of the emotional, intellectual and spiritual freedoms promised in the counter-culture. He became a hippy.

He embraced transcendental meditation, became vegan, practiced yoga, grew his own organic vegetables, his evenings glowed under kerosene light, he rose early morning, was fit from long walks, swam with platypus, found glow-worm caves, and sought enlightenment. He lived by his belief in karma. He did not steal; neither did he drink alcohol or smoke. He abhorred hard drugs. His passions were for food, knowledge, meditation and women. With the smooth golden skin, a ponytail of long wavy black hair to his waist and a beautiful face, he was a hippy heart-throb.

But like a microcosm of the Nimbin experiment, and like a beehive, a commune, or civilisation, there are primes and falls. One morning Robbie woke from a cold-sweat nightmare. He had dreamt that he had been arrested for possession and sale of drugs. He dreamed he was in the Lismore lock-up. It was just a dream. The terror subsided. He opened his eyes. He was in the Lismore lock-up; he had been arrested for possession and supply of drugs.

By his standard, they were not hard drugs; they were not addictive. His logic was not the same as the court's. He was incarcerated briefly at Longbay, then at Silverwater Prison Farm. When he was released, he smoked cigarettes, he ate meat, and he had developed a bad habit that he never came clean of.

His health suffered from his lifestyle, but his humour was resilient and as dry as the dust that swept over Lismore the afternoon of his death. Wicked sarcasm, misquotes, deliberate spoonerisms: “Time wounds all heals”; and always pertinent facts, a snippet of history (did you know Pope Leo VIII died of a stroke while committing adultery?) or a scientific fact for every occasion.

If he made a mark in the community, it was in his articles and letters to various magazines and letters to editors. These were always consistently well-written, wry and insightful. He would decimate prejudice with logic and facts, lambast and enlighten with irony and history and humour. One such piece, published in The Northern Rivers Echo, begins by imploring us to reject the latest arrival of “illegals” and “que-jumpers” brought in by “greedy people smugglers.... aboard fishing fleet”. When we are hooked with vehement or tacit agreement, or are horrified that The Echo would dare to print this, we are scooped in the net of his research: this was a 1941 letter from the Swedish Nazi Party rallying against displaced Jews. He also wrote articles for drug-users magazines extolling the virtues of the one activity that poses the greatest risk to the established order: gaining knowledge through reading.

If just one of his articles has inspired someone to question their own ignorance, to unearth facts before blurting opinion; then his life has been worthy. If just one person challenged their fear of the unknown, talked to a new neighbour, read a life-changing book, found a new understanding of themselves, each other, our humanity, because of his writings, then his life has been worthy.

So much knowledge, such a beautiful, perverse, sharp, contradictory mind. Such a placid nature. He was not demonstrative; he never yelled or lost his temper (except that one time when the Nolan's cow gorged on his vegie patch); his laughter was a chuckle, his rage was a scowl, his retaliation was a roll of the eyes. And grief did not fall in tears, but was breathed as a sigh. Except for that one time, two weeks ago, when he was told he had terminal liver cancer.

Robbie died on Tuesday, September 22. He was just 55 years old. He is survived by his close friend Doodie, his father Tom, his brother Keir, and his sister Rosey. Robbie was a constant in the life of Doodie's daughter, Eden, and her two daughters, Magenta and Coco, whom he loved and adored.

His family would like to give their deepest thanks to the doctors, nurses and other staff of Lismore Base Hospital and community nurses who provided such high quality of care, and so importantly showed him non-judgemental respect and loving kindness.

We miss you. With grace we commend you.

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