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My Blog

James Esplin
1 September 2013

James Esplin - Arbroath

My father James Esplin came to Australia alone as a very very young boy – not even into his teens. He told me stories of sailing around the ‘Horn and the terrifying size of the waves at what seemed to him to be the bottom of the earth. He was already a qualified blacksmith at this young age and would go on to work with metal, and sometimes wood, for most of his life.

James ended up in central north western Victoria where he met, fell in love with, and married my mother. They had six children – five boys and a girl. I am the youngest of that large tribe. My family moved from Wedderburn to Melbourne before I was born, and I started life in what was then Glenferrie, and is now Hawthorn.

He gave all for his famility – working six days a week to make ends meet. He lived a very, very hard life and I suspect knew little else but hard physical work – and yet on rare occasions, he would pick up a violin and those huge hands developed from a life time of work could conjure beautiful, gentle soulful music from that fragile instrument. His other love was his garden, and, what little spare time he had, he would usually be found in his garden.

He didn’t tolerate fools and wouldn’t waste time with people he didn’t respect – he had a highly developed set of values and lived his life according to his strong moral compass – and he expected others – especially his family, to do likewise. His values and moral compass were set very much toward what he had experienced in his all too brief childhood in Scotland. Hard work, self reliance, ask for nothing, stoicism, no sign of emotion, no signs of weakness to be shown. These were hard values to live up to at all times!

He was by any definition a loner. I think now that he found it easier to work with metal and wood, or tend to and nurture his garden – spend his precious free time with materials that didn’t answer back – rather than talk to people!

When he retired at 65, it should have been the start of a time for he and my mother to enjoy their lives together with all their children grown up and having left home, but fate again intervened and he died of a massive heart attack at 67 – unsurprisingly doing hard physical work – chopping wood for the fire.

He was a hard man – but a fair man.

As is understandable after such a short childhood, he had quite a closed personality and never talked about his feelings or emotions. When I was playing football or cricket, I would spot him from the corner of my eye – standing alone, at the opposite end of the oval from all the other parents and spectators – he would have left by the time the game ended or stumps were drawn – he would never acknowledge having been there or say anything about the game – but I always hoped he was proud of my efforts. I think he was.

He was a keen amateur photographer in his later years, taking rolls and rolls of slide film with his beloved Voigtlander camera on our trip to Scotland, and again when we returned to Australia.

I also think he passed on to me some of his ability to work with his hands, and some of his ability to intuitively make music – in my case with a guitar. As many would know, I have also fallen in love with photography in recent years. I have chased down two second hand but mint condition Voigtlander cameras from that era and I can’t wait to develop the first rolls of film I put throught them.

I hope he occasionally looks down and checks out my sculpture and my joinery, flicks through my images and maybe even listens to my music.

I have found it hard to reflect on my relationship with James Esplin, let alone to write about it, yet lately he has been in my thinking – perhaps it is scanning the slides I have inherited of the one and only great indulgence in his life – a return visit to Arbroath in the early ’60s.

He had no truck for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day – he regarded them as little more than commercial contrivances – but I am thinking of him especially today!

He was a hard man – but he was a good man!



Beautifully and sensitively written; I wish that I had met James Esplin.

Author: Roz Esplin   |   1 September 2013- 12:52 pm

Woah. What a moving post Bruce. Thank you for sharing, Aliki.

Author: Aliki Komps   |   1 September 2013- 10:33 pm

A beautiful tribute to your interesting Dad, Bruce.

Author: Natalie Fisher   |   2 September 2013- 8:35 am

I am sure he was as proud of you as you of him xx

Author: Name*bernie   |   3 September 2013- 5:10 am

I am sure he is proud of you Bruce as Grace was. Reading this brings back lots of memories.

Author: Kerena   |   3 September 2013- 9:02 pm

    Kerry – thank you!

    Author: bruceesplinadmin   |   3 September 2013- 9:47 pm