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Remembering Dominic Scibberas

Eulogy, St Monica's Church, Moonee Ponds, 12 January 2022

A lovely bloke. It’s not easy to capture anyone’s personality in just two words. But I don’t think that anyone who knew Dominic well – his family, friends, fellow workmates, and those like Alastair Nicholson and me with whom he worked so closely for so long– would want to contest for a moment that he was indeed just that: one of the most decent, kind, generous, thoughtful and cheerful persons one could ever have the pleasure of knowing: a genuinely lovely bloke.

My own closest personal association with Dominic was during the thirteen long years we spent together – from 1983 to 1996 – when I was a Cabinet Minister in the Hawke-Keating Governments and he was my assigned Melbourne Commonwealth Car driver. I don’t quite know why he got the gig with me – I suspect it was initially seen by one of his supervisors as appropriate punishment for some feisty outburst or other of the kind to which Dominic was wonderfully prone whenever he felt that management was threatening his or his fellow workers’ rights.

Perfect gentleman though he was, one of Dominic’s most admirable characteristics – no doubt nurtured during his early British army days – was his utter unwillingness to take any crap from anyone in authority, certainly not from his supervisors: and certainly not from me!

Not that I can remember ever being minded to hand any out in Dominic’s direction, even when occasionally some of his driving was what might gently describe as less than totally gossamer-footed (I always suspected that Dominic had learned his craft at the controls of a Sherman tank, but this seems to have been a rumour without foundation).

Whatever it was that brought us together – and whatever the teensy little bit of volatility there might have been in both our characters – Dominic and I got on wonderfully well together, and within a very short time he had become, and remained for all the years in government thereafter, not only a much-loved, indispensable, part of my ministerial office family but an indispensable extension of my family at home as well.

I can’t emphasise enough just how important it is, when you are in a very high pressure, highly publicly-visible job, to have around you a loyal, supportive team with whom you are genuinely friends – not only to share the occasional highs, but also to ride the many lows that come with the territory. Politics has always been a bloody and dangerous trade, and the lows can be very low indeed. The people you have immediately around you, and with whom you spend so much time, matter very much.

Dominic had, in abundance, all the qualities that matter in this kind of environment;

  • He was always cheerfully good humoured and upbeat
  • He was totally reliable and trustworthy, a model of integrity
  • He was fiercely personally loyal, and
  • He would do anything for you that he possibly could – for me, my wife and kids, and for other members of our office team

Some of that personal commitment went far above and beyond the call of duty, for example when our family home was largely destroyed by fire when my wife Merran and I were travelling overseas, and Dominic spent hours of his own time combing through the wreckage looking for books and other personal items that might have escaped destruction.

Dominic had a wonderfully full and varied life about which we’ll soon hear some more from members of his family. Born in Malta in 1938, he remembered sheltering as a ehild from the wartime bombing of the island in the deep underground tunnels of Valletta. He joined the British army, as one could then, at the age of 14 – as a bugle-boy rather than rifle wielder – and served until his early 20s, coming to Australia as an assisted migrant in the mid-1960s, where he began his family life and started working in the 1970s for the Commonwealth Car service.

His time with ComCar, which extended on a casual basis well into his retirement years, was to the great pleasure and benefit of not only me, and Alistair Nicholson as Chief Justice of the Family Court who followed me for several years as his primary responsibility (and I know fully shares my admiration and affection), but also to a legion of other very satisfied MPs and judges and other Commonwealth office-holders.

Living and working overseas for a decade, as I did after leaving Australian politics, and consumed with other preoccupations, I rather lost contact with Dominic for too many years, but caught up with him again not long after he was given the terrible diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2017, and was struck again by just what a kind, thoughtful and good-humoured man he was, grateful for the opportunities and pleasures life had given him and facing what lay ahead with great courage. In fact he defied almost overwhelming odds by going into regular remission after chemotherapy, until time finally ran out – sadly, all too quickly at the end – and he passed away last week just before his 84th birthday on Australia Day.

Dominic had quite a few pleasures, and indeed passions, in his life. One of them, which no doubt helped he and I to bond, was his support for the political Left – born of an instinctive sympathy for the underdog, for working people and their rights and those in need of community support. That did not mean he was anything less than totally professional in dealing with all the non-Labor people with whom his job brought him into contact, but there was never much doubt where his heart lay.

Another of Dominic’s great passions was for his motorbikes – channelling his inner Marlon Brando and Hells Angel, albeit always with European not American machines. All pretty implausible, until one saw him dressed to kill in his black leathers with a grin on his face as wide as his helmet.

Dominic loved not only tinkering with his bikes, but working with his hands generally, and made in his later years a lot of superb furniture. But the triumph of his woodwork craftsmanship, which I had the pleasure of seeing just as he was completing it, was a child’s rocking horse, breathtakingly beautiful in its design and execution, and absolutely destined to become a loved family heirloom down through many future generations.

If that rocking horse was a labour of love, it was born above all from Dominic’s greatest passion of all – his beautiful family – starting with his five beloved children, Louise, Jennifer and Elizabeth, and Robert and Christopher. I know how much they meant to him, and he meant to them. To lose a loved parent is always a heartbreaking loss, however much you anticipate and think yourself prepared for it, and our hearts go out to them.

Dominic’s passing is not just a loss to the Scibberas family but to all of us who had the pleasure of knowing him. It is not of everyone that one can say, with total conviction, as we all can of Dominic Scibberas, that he was indeed a lovely bloke, and his memory will long remain with us.