Peter passed peacefully on the 18th of June 2017. This is the eulogy I wrote for his funeral:
Peter’s niece Kveta and the portrait she painted for him
Peter was born in 1930, in a copper mining camp in Tasmania, in one of only 6 wooden houses on a platform built into the side of a mountain. The nearest town was Rosebery. There were no roads leading from the camp into town, so when Margaret went into labour with Peter, her husband Arthur had to run a good long way into town to fetch the doctor, along a dirt track beside a steep ravine. It was pouring rain and he had to use a lantern to light his way in the dark. Peter Evans had a two year old brother named David, and four year old sister called Anne. Margaret umpired hockey games in her spare time, blowing her whistle and running back and forth in a sea of mud covered in handfuls of snow, while Peter watched from his pram, and Anne and David chased each other over the seats.
When Peter was two years old, the Evans family moved back to Melbourne from whence they’d come, eventually settling near Kew Junction, a busy Melbourne intersection. Peter had an adventurous spirit, even at this age, and was renowned for wandering off. One day, when he was three years old, the entire family set out in search of him, calling his name. They found one of his shoes in the middle of the busy intersection, and they went into every shop along the street, asking “Have you seen a little red-haired boy?” Eventually they found him in the barber’s shop, sucking on a lollypop and getting his hair cut. Continue reading
On our last day of packing up my uncle’s home at Mutijulu, we dropped some of the boxes off to a friend of his because the tow ball rating on Pete’s car, which we were using to cart a trailer-load full of gear back to Alice with, wasn’t strong enough to safely carry everything. Pete’s friend was another ranger. She and her husband helped us with the packing up job by taking quite a few loads of rubbish to the local dump, as well as offering to store and deliver some of his possession to him.
Chatting with her before we left, we mentioned that we had a spare day and were thinking of walking around The Rock and then going to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). “Women aren’t meant to go there”, she said. “Men’s business only. I don’t even look at it from a distance!”. Food for thought. I had been plenty of times as a child with my uncle, who ran plant walks though this area, but my husband had never been and felt a strong pull. We hadn’t found the time to visit them last time we came though, while on our first Wildflower Spirit Journey in 2012, so it felt very important not to miss the opportunity this time around.
My husband and I just got back from moving Uncle Peter’s gear from his home at Mutijulu, to Alice Springs where he will now be living. He will be sorely missed at Uluru. He has been an incredible source of support for the local community and has put decades of valuable work in as an arid zone botanist, well respected as an irreplaceable fount of knowledge.
Our rescue mission went beautifully, thanks to some brilliant planning by Steve. On the friday we arrived in Alice, we helped Pete pack up his caravan, then we cleaned out his car. We picked up a hire trailer and some packing materials and conferred with Pete about what needed to be done. The next day Steve drove out early and my cousin dropped me off at the airport after a lovely lunch with her and my mum. My chronic sciatic injury isn’t car-friendly, so I had to fly!
Stephen arrived the same time I did and he collected me from the airport. After dropping things off to our hotel room, we went to my uncle’s demountable on the community, spent a few hours throwing out rubbish and drove back to the room on sunset. I absolutely love the view of The Rock from the community. Lots of good memories! I remember spending hours playing with my brother in Pete’s ultra-lite glider, pretending we were flying; gazing through telescopes while Pete taught us how to recognise venus, mars and saturn; and listening to him telling us dreamtime stories about The Rock.
It took us another four days of packing and cleaning to finish the job and we made some friends with a nearby local family who claimed the old bike I used to ride around on when I was a child, along with a smorgasbord of other goodies like food and a couple of old chairs. We also left lots in the shed, which uncle donated to the arts community, along with the demountable. On the last day, we got up before dawn and walked around the rock, then we went to Kata Tjuta. To my delight, there were lots of flowers after all the rain, and incredible memories came flooding back of childhood visits to places that are now closed off to the public. I’m glad the locals are reclaiming their space.
On friday I flew back to Alice while Stephen drove back with the loaded trailer. It was lovely to connect with family and I’m hoping to go back again in a few months time, to help sort through some of Pete’s gear and get some interviews done with him. It was really beautiful to hear over and over again the love and respect everyone at Uluru held for him…. they will miss him so much. He leaves a legacy of important botanical work and great kindness in his wake. Other rangers are taking over with the plant walks, but who will now buy and deliver a weekly box of fruit to the local community school? Some are talking about setting up a special garden in his honour, with the aboriginal names for the plants featured; my uncle is very concerned about this knowledge being lost.
This LINK will take you to a book about the Papunya art movement. Peter features in the story briefly, but the main body of the story is about Geoff Barden, who Peter was teaching with at the time.
While on the Wildflower Spirit Journey through Central Australia, we visited my great uncle Peter at the Mutijulu community at The Rock. I’ll post up some photo’s from Peter soon, from his latest letter to me. In the meantime, here is a link to an article about him: PETER FANNIN