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The Dadist manifesto

  • 25 October 2022
For a decade or so in the 20th century, Dadaism ruled. The avant-garde art movement/poetry and performance vibe came out of Zurich during the Great War as a satirical and nonsensical response to life’s absurdities. Now, in my extended clan, ensconced in God’s own realm of Queensland, we don’t have or need Dadaist flourishes; we have Dadism and Dadist manifestos.

‘When did that happen, Dad? Seriously? What year? In what dimension or alternative reality? Fair dinkum?’ These questions are an eternal part of my chats with my father, Kenneth Hugh Gittins Esq.

Dad nods vigorously, doubling the ante or conceding a point, but never giving the game away. A charming teller of truths and tales (some tallish and some Himalayan), this rustic raconteur has perplexed many an audience or congregation and delighted many a grandkid and great-grandkid with his reminiscences.

When Kenneth Hugh Gittins is in the room and crash-tackling the conversation, well, eat your heart out Salvador Dali and Walter Mitty. Conversations turn surreal, fact-checking expeditions run aground, ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ assertions become avowed memories, venerable adages morph into linguistic curiosities, and laughter ensues.

Dad will often reference conversations with various prime ministers; occasions where he bailed up the late, wily old Qld premier Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen to obtain charitable donations. His kids are familiar with (and grateful for) stories of Ken’s decisions to decline proffered opportunities to run for local government.

There are other tales too, of carrying pistols as a young bank officer, of witnessing petty ill deeds and calling out darker ones. There are also less dramatic but no less powerful yarns of helping hundreds of people with material aid and pastoral care, as voluntary acts of faith as a lay Salvationist (Salvo). I know many of those stories to be true, having witnessed them.

'Beyond the laughter and bluffs, the greater and lesser connections to facts and verifiable deeds and quotations, there is the man who Ken is. The time he lavishes on others and the truths he represents.'

Dad’s love of a yarn comes from the country. He grew up on a series of farms and went to ‘hundreds’ of primary and secondary schools. He was born with his wide-brimmed hat on (which must have alarmed Nanna), was kept busy milking cows as a one-year-old and driving tractors for Pa at the tender age of two. Or so the stories go.

A fifth generation Salvo, young Ken enjoyed playing brass instruments and