Toni Rooke 17/365

I am falling behind on my homework. Throw a couple of late nights, midnight driving, a friend in need and a dinner date into a blog and the keyboard is left with its tummy untickled.

I took the liberty of speaking to my friend and boss, Toni Rooke, face to face at work tonight. I tell her she shares the name of my first best friend. She laughs at the pommy pronunciation of Toni, Toe-Knee (in Australia they say Tone-ee)!

She is in charge of the youth club here and I am a casual youth worker. I love it, it is like teaching without the teaching! More than once I have compared Toni to Dr Phil, she shows such insight when dealing with the issues facing the young people in our area. She was telling me this evening that out of imperfect relationships can come real beauty.

The evening was going well, dinner had been served, half of the youths were tucked up listening to music under duvets and half were playing basket ball.

I ask her if I can speak to her about my blog and we sit opposite each other at the long white table in the kitchen. I mention that I like her Facebook photo, she is in a wetsuit, sticking her tongue out and she said that she thought it was the one picture that summed her up.

I ask her when did we first meet and she takes me back to the dizzy days at the Aire Valley Restaurant and Guesthouse. Danni, a mutual friend had thrown her engagement party there. It was a hilarious night we agree.

I say ‘and then I saw you through Kellie and through Danni many more times and also through our kids. I have always been impressed with the way you were so open about Dean.’ She sighs. ‘I don’t have to mention Dean, if you don’t want me to’ and she insists I do as he is so much a part of their story.

Her partner, Dean was a jockey. Horses became his passion in his mid teens when everyone else was smoking and drinking. He was soon a well known part of the racing fraternity, riding in some big races and helping to train the famous horse, ‘Saintly.’ However, when he reached 6 feet tall he struggled to get his weight down to the 56-60kg range and had to accept that he couldn’t compete.

Toni and Dean had a son and lived together above stables, by stables and near stables. In 2004 they had a daughter, born early and with complications. Toni recalls that during a desperate moment Dean had said in prayer ‘What can I do? Don’t take the baby take me.’

In October when the baby was a month old, Toni woke to find Dean not breathing. He had died of an unknown cause and the doctors had said that it was as if the lights had just been switched off. It was their anniversary.

Toni reflected on the times when she knew Dean had been for a visit since he passed away. Once she was preparing food and she could feel him giving her a big hug. He had appeared to her in a dream and she said to him ‘Dean, where have you been? Everyone thinks you are dead.’ Dean had said that everything was alright and they had even fixed his crooked finger.

Her son, at the age of five, had related a very detailed description of a dream he’d had. His daddy had called round and taken him for a drive in his Commodore. They stopped at a beautiful golden stairwell that led to a shining gate. Dean had told him that this is where he would be waiting for him one day, but not now, and then he had gone inside and shut the gate behind him.

2004 was the hardest year of Toni’s life, the loss of her brother to cancer in the February, the worry around her daughter’s arrival in the September and the loss of Dean in the October.

We talk about when she came to Apollo Bay. She had initially wanted to run away immediately but felt comfort in her familiar surroundings and didn’t move for two years. She came here to move on.

She is a well known and exceptionally pretty face around town. Her son says that she has three voices, her Mum voice, her Dad voice and her Youth Leader voice. She works for the local health organisation and lives opposite her doting parents.

This morning when I had walked my dogs to the harbour, the sun was rising behind the sails and masts and I had turned and said to my friend, ‘How lucky are we to live here? This is like heaven.’







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