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Say what you will, Melbourne knows how to farewell its own.

Which is why when my father, Malcolm Silverward died recently, the funeral service was held in the fashionable St. John's Anglican Church.

This church holds a special place in family lore. My parents married there forty years ago in one of the most glittering social events of the period. Since then, numerous Silverwards have walked down its aisle to the triumphant peal of bells including my sister, cousins and other relatives. My aunt, Ada Silverward would have married there and, being the dutiful son, I also married at St.John's.

As both a mark of respect and as a gesture of sensible crowd control, the police cordoned off a large section of the area around the church and diverted traffic from that busy section of Toorak Road, South Yarra.

When the funeral party arrived and I escorted my mother into the church, I noticed a large group of ordinary men and women gathered outside, come to pay their respects. Their silent tribute would have pleased my father.

Malcolm Silverward was repected by many of the leaders of society. His funeral service was conducted by the Archbishop' while the Prime Minister gave the bible reading. The church was crowded with men and women, many of whom were household names - businessmen, sporting figures, noted artists, Premiers from several states and so on. My father was also loved by common folk for whom he did so much in the field of philathropy and art patronage in both city and regional areas.

I felt honoured that day to deliver the eulogy to my father. Honoured that I could pay public tribute to a fine man and a wonderful father. Proud that as Group Chairman of the Silverward companies, I was carrying on a tradition established by Malcolm Silverward decades ago. Proud that my son carried his grandfather's name and proud that of all men, I was in a special position to know and appreciate the worth of our company's generous and able founder.

It is now 12 years since Silverwards was floated as a public company. Stock was predictably oversubscribed - thousands wanting to share a little of my father's outstanding success. Nine years after the float which catapulted my father - somewhat embarrassedly as I recall - into the exclusive ranks of the BRW Rich List, I finally committed myself to the daunting task of writing a biography of my father.

What began as a short memoir intended for private circulation rapidly grew into a sprawling biography. Malcolm Silverward was not a man whose life could be easily pressed between the pages of a magazine or book. In fact, the quite bulky book has grown into what's known in the book trade as a 'two hander'. The first book examines the background of the Silverwards - a pioneering family who, like the Wentworth's or Macarthur's, founded their fortune on Australia's early, burgeoning wool industry. I then traced Malcolm Silverward's remarkable education by enlightened parents. In many ways, my great grandparents and grandparents were very progressive thinkers for their times. Although they were clearly conservatives, they offered an open table to many of the raffish but talented writers, poets and painters of their times. Many a struggling painter insisted on giving them one of his or her early works in appreciation for free meals and board. I then traced my father's humble beginnings as a suburban accountant in the firm of Silverward and Rose of Thornbury, Victoria - then very much a working man's suburb. Many of the early clients were Greek or Italian migrants, struggling with the new language and strange customs of their adopted country: men often shamelessly exploited by Australian employers and, sometimes, their own people.

Those early days offer a valuable insight into the sort of man my father was. It would have been so easy for him to have built up his accountancy business using his family connections. Wealthy men were eager to court favour with Malcolm's father. Giving work to the son may have cemented new relationships. But Malcolm had heard the half envious, half contemptuous gibes. He knew his class mates and later university chums had nicknamed him 'Silvertail'. So he determined to build himself up from a humble base.

Wool no longer offered a clear path to wealth. My father, in seeking a new fortune, followed a far more challenging path than the old verities of a largely rural economy. He determined to be a leader in the new and often ambigious economy of the 1960's.

Now some people may reasonably argue that while my father didn't employ his family's money or connections, his background and education gave him a thousand metre start in life. They would doubtless argue that the sons and daughters of the rich generally grow up optimistic and confident. After all, they have never faced the eroding desperation of poverty and limited opportunities. Attendance at Melbourne Grammar and entry into Melbourne University to study business, law and the liberal arts as both my father and I did still opens doors, even some doors that might only be obvious to the less fortunate.

So yes, I accept Malcolm Silverward was granted a wonderful start to life. At the same time, many people with similar or even greater advantages have turned out to be miserable failures in life, irrespective of whatever yardstick you care to employ. As one study of former Harvard students put it saltily, 'Not everyone we interviewed was eating regular.'

My father proved many times that the advantage of birth he enjoyed was a vaulting pole, not a crutch. I hope that fair minded people will say the same about my own performance in helping float the group of Silverward companies, developing the Asian market, entering the brutal American market and taking over as Chairman when ill health forced my father to retire seven years ago.

One only has to look at my brother, Aden - feckless, a gambler, womaniser and drunk - to see that character, or lack of it, is the final determinant of success.

My father did, of course, possess one great advantage denied his son. He had as partner, the brilliant Arthur Rose - a man whose forensic insight into the strengths and weaknesses of company balance sheets was unparalleled. Many a millionaire businessman today would privately concede he wouldn't have reached his eminence if Arthur Rose in those early days had detected sloth, inefficiency or corruption in growing concerns.

And it's the question of how I should deal with Arthur Rose in the second book of my father's biography that has caused- and is causing - me endless concern. How should I deal fairly with the players in this squalid incident? Should I even open up this old wound?

Too late, I realise why my father tried to dissuade me from writing his biography - a reluctance I put down at the time to to his natural modesty. He had looked further down the road than I - something he often did - and saw the landslide ahead. He knew and would have saved me from the anguish and difficulty of committing myself to a project that once having entered the public domain, was something I could hardly surrender. What I had seen as an act of love and well deserved tribute was perhaps just my foolish attempt to shine in a new field. Silverwards had always flirted with the creative process, but before me, none had crossed the line from patronage to involvement.

It was typical of my father's nature that he never insisted that I follow his way. Once he saw that I was determined to proceed, he offered generous access to many records, photos and newspaper clippings, though I was unable to find anything touching on the Rose Affair. Knowing my father had always tried to avoid this doubtless painful subject, I determined to read as much background as I could and then ask a limited number of essential questions. Unfortunately, before I found any useful material, my father had unexpectedly died and my chance to talk to him about the incident was gone forever.

The very success of the first book - 'a fascinating tale told with the spare elegance of another Auchincloss' as a New York Times critic put it, demanded a sequel and conclusion.

To walk away from this challenge would be to accept a very public failure, yet the task seemed impossible. I had steered around the problem by drafting chapters before the Rose Affair. Now I faced the need to relate the scandal. I drafted several chapters on the times after the incident but I began to wondered whether if the Affair had not subtly altered the motives, strategy and fortunes of Silverwards.

Even as I began the eulogy to my father that afternoon in St. John's, part of my mind continued worrying at the problem.

Predictably, I told the packed congregation that beyond the man they knew lay a private individual who was a loving husband, devoted father and to me, an inspiration and friend. I had barely launched into this theme when the door at the back of the church opened and a man slipped inside.

The light streaming in from the church made the man's shape a blur, but for a chilling moment, I thought I recognised the tall, thin and slightly stooped man. If it had been my father visiting his own funeral, I would not have felt more surprised. Then, the reasoning part of my brain again resumed control. Surely, I was mistaken. The man took his place in the back row of the church and was lost to sight among the row of faces.

I had faltered when I first saw the man, but Silverwards are renowned for keeping cool heads. After all, it was JFK, then a young Senator, who told my father after his visit to Boston that it was always vital to maintain 'grace under pressure.'

I recovered and if anyone noticed my slight hesitation, they would have assumed I had been briefly overcome by grief.

Later, outside the church as my family entered the cars to be taken to the private cremation ceremony at the Necropolis in Springvale, I sought the man among the grim or tear-stained faces in the crowd. I felt relieved not to see him.

Following the cremation, a large group gathered at my father's house in Heyington Crescent for the funeral supper. Invitations were, of course, closely vetted by a private security firm I had hired for the occassion.

My brother began to move determindly toward me. I felt annoyed that of all times, he would choose our father's funeral to buttonhole me about his future. The fact was I had decided my brother had no future at Silverwards. He would need to be content with continuing to receive his generous allowance. Silverwards never had and never would have a place for a drunken fool, even if that fool felt increasingly frustrated with his aimless existence.

My father had already told him as much, but Aden had somehow assumed that with my father's death, I might be prepared to reopen the subject. I would tell him my decision shortly, but I didn't want to discuss it on this particular day. It was quite within Aden's character, that hearing my decision he would sulk or become openly abusive. It was hard enough to ensure he turned up sober to the funeral. Disappointment could easily turn him back to drink and I feared a scene when the family's dignity was on public show.

As my brother drew nearer, I broke off a conversation with one ofr my uncles and moved away. As I did, I saw Arthur Rose approach my mother and her sister. I saw my mother's face freeze with shock while my aunt looked both disconcerted and strangely eager.

'What are you doing here?' my mother demanded, keeping her voice down so the guests wouldn't notice. Seeing me, she snapped, 'I thought the security firm you hired was meant to keep out undesirables.'

'Don't blame them,' Rose said gently. 'I was invited by your husband to attend his funeral. You see,' he drew a letter from his breast pocket, offering it to her.

My mother seized the letter, scanned its contents and thrust it back.

'Ridiculous. Do you expect me to believe this? You forged this letter to gain entrance to my home. I can't imagine why you did this. It's probably to gloat over Malcolm's death. Anyway, it's just a forgery. You were always good at that weren't you Arthur. You haven't learnt anything worthwhile after all these years. My husband should have pressed charges. I told him he was too kind to you. A lengthy jail term might have stopped you in these nasty littlle tricks.'

Arthur Rose flinched under the tirade, but replied with dignity. 'I'm sorry that you still feel like that. I wouldn't have come here if your husband hadn't written to me in the last week before his death. I was surprised to receive the letter, but, despite what you think, I respected and even loved Malcolm in the early days. I'm sorry that my presence causes you distress.'

Turning to my aunt, who was once his fiancee, he said with a quiet smile, 'Nothing to say, Ada? Never mind. You're still very beautiful.'

'Show this man out,' my mother ordered me.

Arthur and I walked silently through the crowd and out through the hallway into the garden. At the gate, I waved away the security guard who, realising his error, had bustled over to the old man.

'I'm glad to meet you David,' Arthur said, turning to me. 'I've read so much about you. Followed your progress in the media. I enjoyed your book. Perhaps it explained much I didn't understand at the time. That was also a fine tribute at the funeral. Your father was, I'm sure, very proud of you.'

'Did he really write to you?' I wondered, then felt ashamed at my doubt.

'Yes,' Arthur nodded. 'I doubt that even your mother who has always hated me and who I consider a vicious and stupid woman, really thought I forged a letter to attend a funeral. It certainly didn't give me pleasure to come here today. Rather the reverse.'

He took out another letter and gave it to me. 'This was also written by your father. He phoned me and we had a brief conversation. I don't know what it says, though I can guess its contents. You'll have to take my word that it really came from him, though I suppose you could always call in a handwriting expert to verify its authorship.'

I took the sealed letter and looked directly at Arthur Rose for the first time. 'No,' I said slowly, 'I believe you.'

As he turned, he said, 'I doubt that we'll ever meet again. David, I just want to tell you that Stewart always thought the best of you. Despite all you did, he wished you had been friends.'

With that, my father's former, disgraced partner turned and walked away.

We have all done things we later regret. I can't explain, much less justify the callous way I treated Stewart, Arthur's only child.

There was much about him I found appealing. Brilliant and driven, he won his education through scholarships, whereas I coasted along, financed by a wealthy family. He attended Scotch, rather than Melbourne Grammar, so we only caught up at uni. By the time I went to Melbourne University, I had decided to knuckle down to study, but the truth is I was in those days a plodder, while Stewart was a natural student. He took the three disciplines I had chosen - business, law and liberal arts and was also aiming at a double degree. He was in the year behind me, but I knew him by reputation. Stewart Rose was reserved, no sportsman - but balanced, humorous and hard-working.

Yet, I poured scorn on his achievements at every opportunity. When my sneering group of friends, none of whom i see these days, told me his family name was 'Rosen', rather than 'Rose', I shrugged, 'A Rose by any other name..' Another time, I quipped that Stewart was a man who rose without a trace. Nasty little stabs, born of malice. Later, I found that Stewart suffered from depression and had heard each of my squibbs. He hated his father's disgrace, alternating between rage, anger and humiliation. Finally, he hung himself.

Perhaps he would have suicided anyway, but if I have often wished since that I had shown him some small gesture of kindness. Stewart certainly wasn't to blame for whatever his father did.

After his death, I looked into myself and didn't like what I saw. I felt disgusted at my mean spirit. Secure in my background, I had decided that the Rose family hadn't suffered enough.

Placing the unopened letter in my breast pocket, I threaded my way back through the hall. My mother came across . 'Have you seen off that man?' she demanded. 'How dare he barge into my home? I hope you gave him a piece of your mind.'

I looked at my mother. This was one of the many times that I hated her overbearing manner. As I struggled to hide my distaste, I saw her eyes widen as she caught my expression. She stood back and without replying, I moved past. She rallied. 'Where are you going? There are important people here that you should be mingling with. Your father would be proud to have seen such people at his funeral. You should be working the room.'

'I'll be in father's study. Don't disturb me,' I told her.

When I reached the study, I locked the door. The room, that grand old room crammed with books and heavy with the scent of old leather and cigar tobacco, crowded in on me. I sat behind my father's desk. It felt strange, even impertinent to be there.

I opened the letter. It ran to only two pages.

'Dear David', I read,

'I asked Arthur Rose to deliver this letter to you for several reasons. I didn't want to trust it to the post. I didn't want to risk the possibility of your mother intercepting and destroying it. Finally, I thought it only fitting that the man I wronged and whose reputation I destroyed should bring you the truth.

'I know that you have always admired me, but I have to tell you that this admiration is based on lies.

'I have done many things- achieved many great projects since the so-called Rose Affair, but this scandal has shrunk and twisted the natural pleasure and pride I should have felt. It would have ben far better if I had levelled with you, but I am a coward. I couldn't talk about this with you. Again, I have left Arthur Rose to do what I should have done.

'I leave you with an impossible decision. You will have to decide whether to clear the name of a wronged man, knowing that this will damage the shining image that Silverwards has carefully burnished for years. Arthur Rose was a good friend and a fine man. He deserves dignity and recognition before he dies.

'The official version of the Rose Affair was that I discovered that my partner had been embezzling large sums from a trust fund Silverwards administered on behalf of a deceased estate. It was found that unauthorised withdrawals had been made over eight months. Although the money didn't show up in Arthur's bank statements, other documents bearing his name and signature were found which seemed to implicate him. Before the scandal became public, I reimbursed the fund. I also persuaded the trustees not to press charges against Arthur. He was forced to quietly leave the firm. For the rest of his working life, he eked out a modest living - far below his capacities - assisting a suburban accountant.

'That's the official version. The version your mother has uncritically accepted. It's the version that caused my sister, Ada to break off her engagement with Arthur. She deserves to finally learn the truth about the man she loved.

'The truth is that I embezzled the money. I falsified the records and forged Arthur's signature.

'I was a gambler. I hid my addiction from my family, but gradually the losses mounted until they were so large they threatened to expose me.

'I took money from the trust account to cover the losses. Then I had some lucky wins and was able to return the money. It cured me of my addiction, but the trust administrator ordered a snap audit and the money I was going to repay the next day was missing. The evidence of embezzlement was clear and as only Arthur or I would be the culprits, I decided to frame him. It was easy. Who would doubt the word of a Silverward? Arthur Rose was seen as a thrusting new man who had outsmarted himself.

'As I draw toward the end of my life, I am left with more questions than answers. I die not as the man you will describe at my funeral, but as a confused, venal and lonely man. If you feel sorry for me, feel far sorrier for those I have wronged. Perhaps I should have been brave enough to take this secret to my grave.

'There is nothing more I can write. I hope you can find a way to reveal the truth without destroying our family and our business. Above all, you must tell the truth, although this will leave you a pariah in the family.

'With love and sorrow, your father.'

I quietly folded the letter. I was swept with conflicting storms of anger, compassion and bewilderment. Unlocking the study door, I realised I had absolutely no idea how to deal with my father's terrible secret.




------
Stephen Collicoat


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by Stephen Collicoat





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