Farewell My Friend – David Holderness

“For me, to remember friendship is to recall those conversations that it seemed a sin to break off: the ones that made the sacrifice of the following day a trivial one.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Mortality


David was a great conversationalist and certainly in the fashion of Hitchens could regale us with anecdote and cultural quotation late into a beverage soaked night. There will be no more of these nights and I saw his face for the last time this afternoon.

We met in high school where I was a boarder and his uncle, the deceased David Jones, was my housemaster. In a later year David’s dad Jeremy was also a master.

During school a combination of bands led by Brian Buggy, trips to the 6.30 series and most of all David taught me my current love of classical music. There were hours spent in music rooms with David and Ian (Cooper – violin) exchanging riffs. David played piano, viola, and the infamous faggot (bassoon). We had Yusuke for recorder and I started clarinet then oboe. Julius was on French horn. A small band of brothers that also included Stephen Wrench, our musical thespian, and Robbie Gates our maths genius. When David and I later lived together we would spend hours, in the pre-Spotify days, changing CDs and drinking……I ingested French requiems, Benjamin Britten, Shostakovich and also popular song, popular culture and much more.

The famous drinking sessions started at school and moved onto University. Of course initially it was standard teenage stuff but it did merge with the D&Ms and the serious discussions.

After living together for a while and then completing Uni David moved to the UK for a while. Since then our contact has been for want of a better description regularly sporadic – regularly irregular as medicos like to say of atrial fibrillation. When we did meet there was that natural bond of old friends and so I think even if contact was infrequent the friendship remained. Of course in the last decade the internet and social media made vicarious contact the standard.

A decade and a half ago on New Year I had a call from Ellen Bentley nee Smuk. At that stage both of us were separated. David had put her in touch with me and we had a date at my place on New Year’s Eve. We’ve been together since then and David was the best man at our wedding. So he match made but also got Ellen tipsy enough to actually say “I do” at the alter. We joke about Ellen and David dating before he came out, they would sit at cafes and check out the same guys….she finally turned him.

I know that David struggled with depression over the years and this year last year gone by didn’t help. With a series of medical mishaps felling him for 2-3 months we visited him regularly in hospital. Ynez my youngest daughter made him a red and white Loom Band bracelet in honour of his beloved Swans. Tarquin showed him games. It is a long time since David first brought my first daughter, Mia, a Paddington Bear – now a movie my younger kids watch.

At the National Medicines Symposium 2014 I used, with his consent, his medical story as an example of everything wrong with the health system. I know now that this story was underestimating the problems and in just a few months the spiral would converge.

Between Christmas and New Year Ellen and I noticed David missing from Facebook and Twitter. His small data wasn’t accumulating. We contacted him and he reassured us he was OK but everybody I’ve spoken too has been worried about him. I think his death was accidental and if not, natural, but we worried about him a lot. As did all of the others that loved him. And as you can see on social media there were hundreds that loved him for the same reasons as Ellen and I.

We will miss and still love the man from Wankie Rhodesia.

Our regards to your parents, extended family, the dogs and the car.

I raise my martini glass one more time….miss you David

P.S apologies for typos and grammatical errors


  1. John butters

    Cheers Win, well put. I remember David fondly from year 6 onwards. I remember playing soccer with Him – we were both quite hopeless and I had many a laugh with him on some pitch on the north shore where we both marvelled at the futility of our team’s efforts. I remember his quiet wickedness. Funny and generous. We sat next to each other on the bus at our 20th school reunion – both quite smashed. Again, I found myself in stitches giggling at his acerbic observations at the many ways everyone had “returned to type”. I found myself back on the soccer pitch again. I told him that and he softened and said, “yes but john you were always so sentimental”. He was right. Thanks for your observations here Winston. He will be missed.

  2. Elizabeth Dokulil

    David was a friend to my son – Julius. He stayed at our home many times, especially when he and Julius were practising the Beethoven Double Piano Concerto. I even bought a second piano for that reason. David, through Julius and me, learnt the piano with Miss Dempster. Both boys were very fond of her and upset when she died. The last time I saw Davis was about two years ago, when Julius came to help me through rehab. David came to dinner and was amazed that I would still drive anywhere in Sydney and said that I was still feisty! Am I? Who knows! I had three pictures left over from my days of madly buying art, so gave them to him. They had stood against a wall in my unit for too long, so I was pleased they had found a home. Heidi and I will be at The Horizon this Saturday and hope to chat and reconnect with Eleanor, Jeremy and some of the boys I met many moons ago. To say I was shocked at his passing is an underestimate of my feelings. No one should die before their parents, especially one who was so interesting to be with. Vale my friend, may you continue to play music and discuss esoteric subjects. You were a good friend to my son and many more.
    Look well to this day
    For it is life
    In it’s brief course lies all the realities of existence
    For yesterday is but a memory
    And tomorrow only a vision – Sanskrit Poem

    Elizabeth Dokulil

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