Humans of Bello Shire interview with Tom Guranich, seen here with a photo of his younger self. Tom is probably best known in the Bellingen Shire community as “the Tom who writes letters to the local papers” and is a well loved resident of Bellorana Nursing Home. 91 years old this year, Tom’s personal history is rich.
Tom’s early life wasn’t easy, with a father of Croatian descent whom Tom describes as “tough” and a mother with apparent “telepathic abilities”. “For better or worse” Tom has also felt that he too has “the ability to read minds.” Tom was schooled at the Marist Brothers Eastwood but left school in 1940, at the age of 14, to join the illustrious John Fairfax and Sons Pty Ltd as the general messenger boy, which may account for his affinity to our local ‘letters to the editor”.
Five years later, Tom was in Papua New Guinea. Too young to fight as a foot soldier in WW2, Tom became involved in the Australian army’s clean up and re-build of PNG at the end of the war in the Australian Army Small Ships. Tom describes the two years in Papua New Guinea as a time of “highs and lows”. Stationed on New Ireland, Toms relates “one of the highlights of my life” as the time he and his first mate, a native of Manus Island, sailed their transport boat straight out into a cyclone to avoid the certain destruction of the vessel if it remained moored in the harbor. The time he was led along a beach by a local to witness a huge beached whale was equally emotional, particularly as he was unable to communicate verbally with his escort. These times in PNG were “politically troubling”, with tensions between the many stakeholders in the region. In fact, these years affected Tom greatly and to process all that he had witnessed in PNG, Tom wrote an account of his experiences. This was to prove the beginning of a lifetime of writing, both non-fiction and fiction.
Tom returned to Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald in 1946 and continued to work for the paper in many capacities for 30 years, the final few years being in the accounts department. He is still lamenting about the difficulties encountered by his department during the changeover to the decimal currency. The days at the paper were “long and hard but rewarding.” He married Vera in 1950, but when asked if it was a happy 50 years of marriage, Tom answers quite frankly, “not always.” In fact Tom quotes his wife as saying “we’ve only had one row, it just lasted 50 years.” Despite this Tom stayed with Vera until her death on Valentine’s Day in 2004, an irony not missed on Tom.
Tom moved to Bellingen in 2000, only four years before Vera’s death. They had holidayed in Bellingen for years prior to the move and Tom is very content that his final chapter is here in the shire. This time has been the most prolific for Tom’s writing and even now Tom can be found at his desk on most days, despite his worsening eyesight, which unfortunately has meant fewer letters to the editor.
Tom’s philosophy on life is “help people, help yourself and you will be happy. Oh and also clean your teeth three times a day.” When asked how Tom feels about being a nonagenarian he replies “I’ve made 90 so I might as well go for 100.”
Following is an excerpt from one of Tom’s short stories. It delves into the concept of telepathy, more for his “own understanding and processing” of this phenomenon.
ASA THE WIZARD A Short Story by Tom Guranich.
Asa Langshanks went to the door of his little home and looked down the valley. Even as he looked, I saw over his shoulder the brilliant red rim of the rising sun pop up over the far hills to the east. Asa made an obeisance and murmured something I could not distinctly hear. The sky looked clear, blue and cloudless. From the side I could see he stood stock still for a moment, head bent, his lips moving silently, until finally he clapped his hands together and turned fully back to me.
I looked with interest at this man whom I had never seen before dusk last night when the train stopped at the tiny one-platform railway station in town to let me disembark. He had stepped forward and introduced himself with aplomb, picked up my two bags, and led me to the waiting taxi.
“Home, James,” he said to the driver, disappointing my hopes of his teleporting the pair of us into the air and flying to his home. The salad dinner he had laid out for us both had been prepared in advance and made of fresh, crisp, varied ingredients. Delicious; nothing hocus pocus, but just tasty and satisfying. He showed me to a little bedroom with adjoining bathroom and toilet. I was in bed and asleep within an hour. His comment was: “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Now, this morning, he was the excellent host, polite, cheerful, attentive as he laid out an attractive looking breakfast of nuts, oats, strawberries, banana slices, with cold water in a glass jug. We washed up together and put the dishes in a wooden drying frame to air dry. He took me outside onto the verandah and we sat opposite each other in wooden chairs.
“Brigid Greaney, what makes you think I can help you?” His question was gentle, kind. “Brigid– indeed an ancient name with links to the Celts, the Earth Goddess, and an ancient religion like the Druids on the other side of the world from Australia, and beliefs that have almost been forgotten.” He smiled. “Once a religion goes out of favour its death is imminent, you know, except for small pockets of believers who gradually die out with age and who are forgotten. Trolls, witches, wizards are condemned these days like believers in a flat earth. The pentacle, our symbol of protection, possibly gives our religion a special attraction. I always wear mine.”
I noted his reference to Druids or Celts – I had not mentioned the words but they were certainly in my thoughts.
“Asa,” I said,”the fact that you are here and sitting opposite to me shows some beliefs are still in fashion. I am grateful for your interest in me by inviting me here to tell you my troubles. I saw your name mentioned in an article in a magazine last year, and I realized you might be the person to explain unusual lines of thought that bother me asleep and awake.”
His bright eyes locked on mine. “Tell me,” he said.
“Well, my mother is an Irish descendant of a line of seers, mind readers, and so forth going back for centuries, which means I am too. Mum’s predictions are still spooky today in this country, far away from her own land. I believe she has abilities of an unusual kind. She came here with my father forty years ago from County Kerry because their local parish clergyman raised an impossible barrier to her staying in her birthplace. The rigid superstitions of the Irish are as alive today among some clergy and their followers as they ever were. In those days, however, she could not go out of her front door without one of his parishioners making the sign of the Evil Eye as they passed in the street. My father lost his job on two occasions.”
Asa smiled knowingly and nodded. “ Go on.”
“I think I have inherited Mum’s talents. Strange things are happening in my mind. I see strange and frightening occurrences. Mum told me I had the gift soon after I went through puberty and I have had many experiences that seem to confirm it. I also have visions of an earlier time long past that scare the tripe out of me. I considered I had enough information to look for really proper help, not pills or quacks. I am not a fool. I found you by writing to the magazine and claiming kinship.”
Asa said: “What was it you read about me?”
“In a British weekly popular science magazine, that a panel of US scientists investigating mental and psychic phenomena had examined you. The story said you accurately read minds, and sent and received telepathic messages. The US military was immensely interested but you said you did not understand how the process worked, you were not consistent or perfect, and they must develop their own research because it is not an ability you have been able to analyse. Is what I have told you the truth?”
Asa grinned tigerishly, surprizing me, and looked past me. “Mostly. That article was not from me, but from the scientists involved. I did not approve it. The magazine obtained it by subterfuge, a scoop. I was not happy because I realized that admitting my abilities to that panel would leave me at risk of kidnap by US military, criminals, political movements, if they wanted me badly. I discouraged this impression by scoring less than perfect results – good but not too good. I did not demonstrate my full powers. The magazine did not know that bit. Some of the other things I did demonstrate were, ah . . . inaccurate. Brigid, in dealing with any ruthless nation like the Americans or with criminal organizations one must be careful.” He told me directly: “Until I determine the abilities you have I cannot promise you my help.”