Linked to the Great man
Tuesday, 23rd March, 2021
By Neil Pigot
Coming to Broken Hill has been on Robert Brookfield’s bucket list for several years and despite several attempts to get here he seemed to be getting consistently thwarted by circumstances beyond his control.
Overbooked trains in 2018, Covid in 2019. And when his flight to Broken Hill on Monday morning got caught up in the storms battering the east coast it looked like he might have been going to miss out again.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced turbulence like it. The pilot did 4 circuits of Dubbo and at one point it looked like we were going to turn round and go back to Sydney.”
For one of the few Australian relatives of Percy Brookfield it would have been another missed chance but a faultless final approach in to Dubbo, a refuel and a less bumpy ride to Broken Hill has meant that he’s finally made it and along with author Paul Adams, Robert will be a guest of honour at several events commemorating the death of his “Great, great, great uncle” throughout the week.
Robert’s Great, Great, Great grandparents Samuel and Grace Brookfield were Percy’s grandparents. Grace and Samuel had 7 children. One was Roberts Great grandfather also a Samuel and another was Cuthbert, Percy’s father.
Cuthbert was a modest grocer in Liverpool and together with his wife Jane they had 7 children. Jane sadly died when young Percy was only 13 and Cuthbert, perhaps thinking of his 7 children married again relatively quickly. For Percy, it may just have been a little too soon.
“I can’t prove it but I think that’s why he went to sea so young. Cuthbert remarried less than 12 months after Jane’s death to Martha. Maybe he thought Cuthbert had married too soon. And off he went around the world.Twice!”
Robert has done quite a bit of research on Percy in the latter years, a continuing interest in Brookfield that began at a relatively young age.
“Dad introduced me to Percy’s story as a little boy about 6 or 8. We’ve always known about Percy and what a great
contribution he made. It’s something that the family has always been pretty proud of in our quiet way”.
And somehow the story of Brookfield’s exploits seems to have followed him, or at least kept popping up in his life when he has least expected it.
The first was not long after he had joined the Water Board as a young man and commenced night school at Footscray Tafe.
“I was in the library looking for something else when I saw a book on the shelf “Silver Sin and Sixpenny Ale” and I noticed it was about Broken Hill so I thought I’d open it up and have a look and when I did there was a picture of Percy. I thought to myself “Wow, that’s my Great uncle. Grand great uncle I think the term is.”
He borrowed the book, read it and had his appetite whet. He then read Giles Roper’s ‘Labor’s Titan.
“I read it again on the plane coming up. You have a different appreciation when you’re a bit older. You look at things a little differently. You can’t help but admire the man. The way he stood for his principles. And what he did he did without a lot of fanfare. Often it was behind the scenes. He was just trying to help people.”
Talking to Robert you are struck by the humility of this particular Brookfield, so much so that you wonder whether it’s not a family trait. Beginning as a junior clerk on the floor at the Melbourne Water Corporation over the years Robert rose to become General Manager of Corporate Services. A classic corporate rags to riches tale, without the riches.
“I was a 37 year overnight success.”
Unionism was a part of his story too. He became a shop steward and was even fired once for calling a stop work over unsafe conditions.
“I was just trying to do my bit to keep people safe. I was reinstated the next day. But I enjoyed it. Being able as a young man to have a discussion with the head of the corpo- ration and have it on equal terms.”
Like Grand Great Uncle like nephew it would seem.
Robert has had a cook’s tour of Broken Hill since he arrived and you can’t seem to wipe the smile off his face.
“I’m just so glad I finally got here.”
And you can meet Robert along with author Paul Adams on Thursday evening at the Broken Hill Cemetery where they will both be unveiling a plaque to commemorate the centenary of Percy’s death.