When a community insists on celebrating a milestone birthday with someone who doesn’t acknowledge birthdays, it speaks volumes about that person. Douglas Bailey is one such person, and HT writer Gay Liddington spent any enjoyable afternoon finding out why.
by Gay Liddington
Douglas Bailey has been described as ageless, doesn’t notice when birthdays flit by and says a positive attitude is key. He describes himself as an ‘almost Buddhist’ and recounts his 90 years in relation to colours.
“I was born an only child in Bristol during the depression – food scarce, nutrition poor. Early childhood was grey.
“My education was lacking until we moved to Bournemouth when I was eight years old and the next four years signified the orange-yellow colours of sunshine. Happy times with friends, garden concerts and costumes.
“Then we went back to Bristol and the nomadic lifestyle. I finished school at age 14 not knowing very much at all.”
Douglas began working for the railway as an offsider on the horse and cart, delivering goods.
In his early 20s he was in the employ of airline BOAC in London as a records clerk. Then it was suggested by a colleague that a move to Australia might be a good prospect.
“I didn’t have a clue where Australia was…perhaps somewhere vaguely east of Russia!” said Douglas with a chuckle, adding the desire for adventure spurred him on.
“The ship rolled its way from Britain to Australia via the Suez and Egypt. I enjoyed ship life…interesting people and interesting ports.
“A ten-pound pom, I arrived in Brisbane with two shillings and five pence and just took one day at a time. I lived in a boarding house where the landlady allowed us to stay rent free until we were employed.”
The transition to this new life was enlivening: “Cheeky Australian humour, cartoons, ‘Dad and Dave’, Brisbane architecture and houses on stilts. It was all so unique and, everyone was good looking! No more grey – all bright colours.”
Douglas soon acquired a position at NACO, a company that made washing machines.
“After my first day at work I was paid for that day. On my way home, I stopped in Fortitude Valley and spent my wages buying food for the boarding house because there was a group of people without jobs. Then I walked home because I had no money but had food for everyone.
“Another boarder who started work that day, gave me money from his salary so I had my fare to work the next morning. We helped each other.
“After NACO, a few odd jobs, then I landed a position at the University of Queensland, Veterinary Science Department as a laboratory assistant. Before long they discovered my talent for drawing.
“My boss was writing a book and trying to draw the dissection of sheep. He showed me some drawings he was struggling with so I asked if he’d like me to do them. From that time, I became departmental artist. This led to a 30-year career.”
Involvement with community theatre also played a big part in Douglas’s life. His forte was creating props and stage sets. He danced, sang and acted and travelled the world remembering those years as warm colours and exciting times.
After 35 years at UQ Douglas was offered early retirement. He was replaced by a computer.
“At that stage, I had a mass of drawings I’d kept and took home otherwise they might have been destroyed. I presented them to the Department of Anatomy which is now at Gatton. I’m told they’re framing them.”
Unprepared for retirement in his early sixties, Douglas was without direction.
“Up until that time whilst at the university, I also worked part-time as an artist for Channel 7. Then, I didn’t do anything useful except a lot of bushwalking and maintained theatre interests.”
Eight years after retirement, life’s brightest colours were about to enfold Douglas.
“I’d been up and down the coast looking for my place then discovered Maleny, buying the first block I saw at Witta. It was instinctive.
“I appreciated the town’s architecture. The only modern place was the ANZ Bank, everything else was rustic. I’ve been here 25 years and loved every minute.
“For a while I kept busy with clearing the block, planting trees, and building. I didn’t really get involved with anything until the cooperative, UpFront Club was established.”
Douglas was among the first to volunteer. After seeing empty coffee cups on every table, he asked if he could help and so began 20 years of service until The Club closed in 2016.
I met Douglas Bailey in 2000 and recall his zest and enthusiasm. When he wasn’t waiting tables or washing dishes he drew caricatures of staff. The line-up decorated a kitchen wall.
On music nights, women of all ages targeted Douglas as their dance partner. Rock ‘n roll or Latin American, he tirelessly cavorted throughout the evening.
He adds: “I only learnt Latin American dancing when I came to Maleny and went on to teach Cha-cha-cha. Prior to that I was a keen ballroom dancer.”
Maintaining his one-acre property, window dressing for Lifeline for almost 10 years and Maleny Film Society added to Douglas Bailey’s community involvement. More recently, he features at Maleny Music Festival as our own ‘Mr Squiggle’.
To prepare for ‘the birthday you have when you’re not having a birthday’, Douglas is creating a depiction of his life with photos, drawings and art.
And the colour of life in Maleny? His face lit up and the vibrant character that is our Douglas said, “Oh, all the colours, Maleny is the kaleidoscope.”
Friends are invited to Douglas Bailey’s 90th Birthday Bash. Sunday, July 15 at the Witta Recreational Club, 1pm – 5pm. Cake cut at 3pm. No presents. Bring a plate. Cash bar available.