A 1948 model Rolls-Royce turns 70! – story and pics by Marie Pietersz 

Marie Pietersz

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A 1948 model Rolls-Royce turns 70! – story and pics by Marie Pietersz

The 70th birthday party of Gavin Angus Rodie held at the Walawwe (The Bungalow) Restaurant and Bar, Noble Park, on 10 February was a specially memorable night because not often does one get to celebrate the milestone birthday of a son of Sri Lanka, born in British Ceylon, who served under the flag of his country of adoption, Australia, in a foreign land (Vietnam). Guests included family,  friends from his youth and a contingent of his former Army comrades from Perth, Adelaide and Queensland, all drafted into national service in 1968 and all turning 70 this year. 

Party entertainment included music by Elmo Wells-Jansz, guest singers Everard Hoffman and Reg Bartholomeusz, Trinity College song, Waltzing Matilda nationalist ballad and Army singalong, Rugby ditties by Bumpy Jayasekera and Reg, and speeches by Everard Schoorman, Glen Vanlangenberg, Peter Valchou and Keith Molyneux. In his response speech, Gavin thanked everyone for the memories!

Gavin was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 11 February 1948, the middle child of parents John and Primrose (nee Krasse) Rodie, with an older brother John and younger sister Alison.

Gavin started his schooling at Methodist Ladies’ College, along with a number of other male toddlers, when it was quite the norm in Ceylon for male toddlers to go to girls’ schools until Year 4.  He moved to a boys’ primary school, St Thomas’ Preparatory, then St Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, and finally Trinity College, Kandy, where he was boarded in a school master’s home. Gavin took part in rugby, cricket and athletics for his senior school.

Gavin was a 17-year-old teenager when he migrated to Australia in 1965, settling in WA and calling it home until he turned 67. He started his first job as a banker with National Australia Bank where he rapidly escalated within the ranks to manager. 

Competing with his employment escalation was his social popularity and no wonder, with one of his Army mates describing him as  “a debonair bloke, always the best smelling, best dressed amongst us. He always wore a cravat, smoked gold pack Benson & Hedges and had that look of sophistication with those large, black-rimmed glasses. A polished sportsman (he played rugby for the Australian Army XV), and socially, in an era of no political correctness, Gavin was always the winner at pulling a sheila”. 

In 1968, at the age of 20, just as his banking and social careers were reaching dizzy heights,  a marble with Gavin’s date of birth was drawn by the ‘powers that were’ and, as a British subject, he was drafted into the Australian Army as a National Serviceman to support Australia’s SEATO commitment to Vietnam. He commenced recruit training at Puckapunyul and in January 1969 was posted to 7 Battalion at Holsworthy, NSW.

In the Army, Gavin’s military leadership potential surfaced and he was chosen as a member of the jungle training team responsible for putting his Battalion through the jungle course at Canungra in QLD. While in Vietnam, Gavin was also chosen to lead a cadre of South Vietnamese soldiers and was a section commander in 5 Platoon on many field operations.

In October 1970, Gavin returned to Australia and Perth and rejoined the National Australia Bank, but not for long. Boredom set in and Gavin left to explore Europe for a while. On his return, Gavin threw his hand into selling real estate, setting up his own agency, Rodie Realty, which gained prominence in Perth’s northern suburbs. 

You could say Gavin’s life in Perth, post-Vietnam, was a full hand – he had landed a Royal Flush in the game of cards – jobs, parties, holidays, businesses – he even found time for romance – and in 1989 Gavin’s full life was made even fuller when wife Wendy presented him with a beautiful daughter, Hillary. 

Then Gavin turned 40 – the age of reason – and allowed himself to indulge in a pet distraction – a 1500 cc custom Harley Davidson motorbike, which he lovingly decorated with every fancy accessory, and formed a Bikers’ Club – the reason given; so he and his mates had a forum where they could be “free”. 

In 2005 Gavin changed his single status to matrimony again when he married Russian-born Marina. Then, in 2015, Gavin acted on his strong belief that the greatest gift we have is a helping hand, and responded to a family crisis, moving permanently to Melbourne to take on the role of caring for his ailing mother, which he does to this day. 

At 70, Gavin has lost nothing of his charm, gentlemanly ways and dress sense, standing out in a crowd.  He can be seen around Melbourne helping out his ‘senior’ friends when braun and muscle are required, a trend that has continued from his youth when school mates turned to him as ‘protector’ when needing to be rescued in schoolyard spats. Gavin has resumed his role of social aficionado, enjoying organising reunions with Sri Lankan friends of his youth and they happy to have their stalwart friend back in their lives.

Nevertheless, Gavin is determined that his birthday celebrations will continue with plans to be part of the celebrations of his Army mates also turning 70 this year. No doubt he is looking forward to being among some of his dearest friends and partying like old times because he has been instrumental in organising a Battalion Reunion Cruise which will take place in March.

“Gavin is a helluva kind, extremely thoughtful, generous guy, a loyal and true friend,” says his Army mate, Peter, and so say all of us. Happy 70th birthday Gavin and enjoy the ride through the decade.

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