Eulogy: David (Dick) Clifford Payten OAM

David (Dick) Clifford Payten OAM

30.03.1921 – 1.03.2020

Eulogy delivered at Hope Point Church, Georges Hall


Half an hour can change your life.

My favourite story about Dick is how he met Mary.

A mate of his set them up.

They were supposed to meet under the clock at Central Station – but Dick didn’t turn up. 

Dick’s mate told him off and they organised another date – Dick and Mary were supposed to meet again under the clock at Central – and again Dick didn’t turn up.

Most people who stand up a date don’t get a third chance.

But that 21 year old barman from Dubbo was lucky.

I want you to imagine a platform at Central Station, chock-a-block with soldiers getting ready to go off to war.  Kissing their loved ones’ goodbye.

And there on the station is Dick.  Playing a game of cards.  He used to be a bit of a gambler.

Then suddenly up runs Dick’s mate – and tells him Mary is here and had to meet her.

This is what Dick said happened next: “I stopped about 10 yards off.  She looked beautiful.  There was no big kiss, or cuddles, it was just a floppy handshake.  We only had half an hour and we spent it very well.”

That must have been a pretty extraordinary half an hour.

Because out of it came 4 kids, 13 grand kids, and 26 great grandkids.

But Dick’s family is even bigger than that.

It’s all the men that he left Mary for that day to go off and fight with.

It’s all the ones who came home, and all the ones who didn’t.

For those who didn’t make it back, he tended their memory.

He looked after their widows and their children.

And he never forgot.

The Dick Payten that I had the privilege to know and love was the bloke who stood at Bankstown Railway Station and Bankstown Centro selling Legacy Badges.

I sometimes worry that not enough Australians know what Legacy is – or the work it does.

But Dick did.  He dedicated more than 30 years of life to this extraordinary organisation.

And he wasn’t just there on Badge Day.

Alan Rawlinson is here – he’s the Chairman of Bankstown/South West Division of Legacy – and we were talking the other day. 

He told me Dick was someone you could always count on. 

Whether it was cooking BBQs or cleaning up.  He was always there.  Because he cared.  He cared about the wives and the kids of those men who never came home.

The Dick Payten I knew was also the most determined bugger I think I have ever met.

I remember when he was working on the Memorial up on the Hume Highway at Bass Hill he had to get a pacemaker installed.

And I remember him telling me: “I don’t have time for an operation.  I’ve got too much work to do”.

That Memorial was for his beloved 7th Division.

It’s there because of Dick.

It’s there because he wanted make sure that we never forgot what his mates did for us.

He thought it was duty. To make sure we remembered them. 

Now it’s ours. To do that without him. 

I told the story in Parliament this week about taking Dick back to Papua New Guinea a few years ago.

It was the 70th Anniversary of Kokoda.  And Dick wanted to go. 

When I asked him why he wanted to go he said “I just want to see my mates”.

He applied to be part of the group of veterans that the Department of Veterans Affairs was taking along.

But he had been crook.  He had been in hospital.  And he failed the medical test.  His GP would give him the green light – so the Department wouldn’t let him go.

So I took him instead. 

He was a stowaway with me and Scott Morrison and Sue on the Air Force jet we took to get there.

We went to Bomana Cemetery.  It is a very peaceful, very moving place. A large field of seemingly never ending tomb stones.

We visited one in particular. 

Dick’s best mate – Arnold Darling.

70 years earlier a US Liberator Bomber had crashed not far from that cemetery at Jackson Airfield.  It hit a fuel depot, there was a massive explosion and it killed 59 Australian soldiers who were waiting on the ground.

One of those men was Arnold Darling.

Dick only found out what happened to Arnold after he got back home from the war. 

In 70 years he had never been back. 

This was the mate he really wanted to see. 

And he cried at his grave and said this:  

“Well, old friend, here I am — I told you I’d be back.
And as usual mate I’m bloody late, it’s 70 years down the track.
And for the last time here I stand in this familiar Kokoda land
Back with the mates I left behind, fixed forever in their time

“And of all the ghosts of all the boys that haunt this lonely place
Only one of them wears your cheery grin and your Bankstown joker’s face
But when I stand in old forgotten dreams of helpless young men’s dying screams
I feel your arm give my hand a shake—and your voice says, ‘Steady, mate’

“Well the country that you died for, mate, you would not know it now
The future that we dreamt of, mate, got all twisted up somehow
The peace that we were fighting for, the end to stupid senseless war
So it couldn’t happen to our kids—well, old mate, it did

“But thank you for the gift of years and the flame that brightly burns
For the time you bought and the lessons taught—though often wasted and unlearned
‘Lest we forget’ cry the multitudes, as if I ever, ever could
So forgive an old man’s tears—and thanks mate for the years.”

It is one of the privileges of my life to know Dick Payten.  I am sure everyone else here feels the same way.

He was a great Australian. But was a good man. 

The kindest, gentlest, happiest bloke I think I have ever met.

I was lucky enough to see him one last time last Saturday night. 

He was still talking about Legacy and his mates.  As I left he said “A long way yet”.

He passed way the next day, but I like to think he is on that long way now.  Back to his mate Arnold Darling.

And back to his darling Mary, the woman that changed his life in that one extraordinary half hour.