They met when Joanne Smith was 15. It was in Harden-Murrumburrah, a tiny village in the Hilltops region, and Dave Argaet had just thrown a firecracker at her.
“I knew then, this was going to be a serious relationship,” Joanne said. “He walked me home that night and where I come from, that’s practically an engagement.”
And it was. They became engaged about seven years later – “you don’t rush things in the country” – and married at Hall in 1975.
They were together for 54 years, married for 47 and created a family of five with children Renee, Dean and Tom, whom Joanne described as “our greatest achievement”. Through them, she said, “we also welcomed with love Jeremy and Charli to the family, and then came the grandchildren, Ells, Jetty, Popsicles and Teddy”. When the children or grandchildren were on his knee, Joanne said, “Dave was in his happy place”.
Never one to go to a doctor, let alone admit he was sick, Dave’s leukaemia was diagnosed last year and he died just over a year later, on 2 July. He was a few weeks shy of his 70th birthday.
At his funeral service in Bungendore on 12 July, it was standing room only, with hundreds more lining the adjacent streets to pay their respects.
“We had 185 people sign the condolence book,” Joanne said, “but there were so many more people there. Dave had a lot of mates, he was that sort of guy, just an all-round good guy. I think it really was a tribute to him to have so many people there.”
Dave Argaet was also a bit of a larrikin as well as a devoted family man, singer-songwriter and builder of anything unusual. He built the family home at Wamboin out of stone, a home they were to thrive in for 25 years before moving to Bungendore – and he built something that many folk thought they had only seen after a few drinks while at Lake George. Dave used traditional materials to build the most untraditional of dwellings – a sunken house at Lake George. The structure was to go on to win the 2010 Weereewa Art Festival prize.
As a teenager, Joanne said although she knew Dave was “the one”, she was nervous about meeting his family.
“Dave had said to me if his mum calls me ‘love’, everything will be OK. The first time I met her I asked if I could help her with supper and she said ‘Yes, love’ so I knew I was in.”
Things could have gone a lot worse when Dave met Joanne’s mother, although the larrikin charm that drove him throughout his life clearly worked that night. “He called her the old sea hag, which for some reason she took as a compliment,” Joanne said. “She even signed her cards ‘from the old sea hag’, which amused us all.”
Their children, too, spoke about their dad with love and humour. For the eldest, Renee, her earliest memory was “dancing” with him to Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love when she was about three. The “dancing” was pretty much clinging to his leg.
“You were the only person who actually listened to me, regardless of how long I went on,” she said.
“Almost everything that makes me, I get from you … because of this, you live on through me and all of us. I told you once that you would be OK because you had to be, because I needed you to be. The hole you left behind will never be filled.”
From son Tom, a heartfelt “thank you” for “teaching me the meaning of hard work in many ways, mostly by your dedication to stonework but more notably by making me ride my mountain bike around for years with flat tyres!”.
From Dean: “Dad, you always used to say to me that when Lake George filled up with water you’d take me fishing. Well, Lake George finally filled up but you were too unwell to take me. That’s OK, Dad. I understand. You didn’t really break your promise.”
The family asked musician Isabella McNickle to speak about her friend at the celebration of his life. She said the first song she ever heard him sing he had written for Joanne. It began, “I don’t hold your hand at parties – that’s just not my way.” And it wasn’t his way, Isabella said. “But he held her hand throughout life and that’s what counts.”
Dave was the sort of bloke who had a lot of mates. Some to share a yarn with, others to play music with, or those he spent time with because they were “gonna do” something together. One of his best was Joe Swarz of Bungendore, who described a typical night with his mate: “I often went round to see him. The kids might be there. Dave sitting in front of the fire on the back verandah. Never seemed to need much – a chair in the sun, firewood, coffee or wine, his little radio … We’d talk about the weather, Bungendore talk, music, jobs he’s doing or trying to get the money they owe him, something he was ‘gonna do’ – there was never any rush. I can see him spinning into my place on his bike with a guitar in an outstretched hand. Planned to jam but we usually got long sidetracked with talk, coffee and smokes.”
Another of his friends was artist Tim Snowdon, who painted Dave’s portrait for the 2021 Moran Art Prize. The stunning image, David, from Bungendore’s Suki&Hugh art gallery, was a finalist in the prestigious prize.
After the funeral, Joanne placed gum leaves and rocks on Dave’s final resting place. The leaves came from a big old gum tree Dave’s mother had planted at their Wamboin home; the rocks were for the man who loved to work with them.