Looking back at storyteller Jack

Jack, right, with his father and brothers Bill and Ron on the steps of the State Library.


Jack Johnson loved a yarn.
He could talk for hours about his favourite topics – his adored wife Frances, his six children, his growing brood of grandchildren and, most of all, his beloved Dandenong.
The final chapter of Jack’s own story was written on Saturday 25 June when he died aged 87.
I first met Jack in 2014. Legendary Journal reporter Marg Stork had recently died and her passing marked the end of her column, A Moment With Marg.
The wonderful volunteers at the Dandenong and District Historical Society insisted I talk to Jack, pressing a copy of his book, When the Clock Strikes, into my hands.
Jack was delighted when I asked for permission to serialise his book in the Journal.
Published in 2009, the book captures in vivid detail the rural market town which was Dandenong in the 1930s.
“We were children of an almost virgin landscape, of pristine little creeks that meandered through the beautiful natural expanse of the Dandenong Valley as it swept up and into the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges and led us, as young explorers in short pants, into the hills of Narre Warren North, Harkaway and the areas that would become Doveton, Endeavour Hills, Hallam and Rowville,” he wrote.
In subsequent pages his chronicled his memories of Dandenong Market when it was primarily a livestock market, the Dandenong Show when it was a highlight of the town’s social calendar, of dances at the town hall and of the faces and personalities of Dandenong.
Jack himself became a plumber. In his eulogy to his father, son Brendan said no one could dig a trench as straight as Jack.
Jack and his wife Frances raised five children in their home in McPherson Street.
Brendan said his dad had the “biggest and kindest heart”.
“He taught us to swim, ride bikes and rescue birds. He loved nature.”
Brendan recalled Jack’s wicked humour, the sparkle in his eye, his ubiquitous blue plumbers’ overalls, Sunday lunch accompanied by Chopin and lots of cups of tea.
Jack was, said Brendan, a “great storyteller” and that his memory was “something to behold and admire”.
He said that the only time his father had been lost for words was at the launch of his book, the publication of which was one of many highlights in an “amazing” life.
In 2009, as he wrote the final pages of his book, Jack described looking out the window of his upstairs study across the rooftops at the lights of Doveton and Endeavour Hills.
He described a yearning for the stillness of the bush and grassland of his childhood.
“I long for the purity of air and the sparkling waters of our little creeks, I long for the deep total darkness of a moonless and starless night that envelops you like a black velvet cloak; of a time when only a few tiny lights lit Lonsdale Street and the only other light was the very faint glow of a hurricane lantern hung from the rafter of a milking shed, or a kerosene lamp sitting on the kitchen table of a nearby farmhouse.”
Silence and peace are now Jack’s for eternity.
His voice, however, will live on in his rich recollections of the town he loved.
With the permission of Jack’s family, the Journal will continue to serialise When the Clock Strikes. The next instalment will appear on 11 July.