Jeff Sinclair when he was living in Airlie Beach, many years after he and sister Shirley lost touch.
Jeff Sinclair when he was living in Airlie Beach, many years after he and sister Shirley lost touch. Rory Sheavils

The pointless argument that pulled my family apart forever


It's a term most commonly associated with divorce and couples wanting to go their separate ways.

But I know too well those words also can apply to families. My family.

Petty jealousies, a money dispute, tyranny of distance, diverse lifestyles and large age differences conspired to drive a wedge through my family a long time ago.

The cracks started after our father died in 1979, then contact became even less frequent after our mother's death 10 years later.

Within another 12 months, two of my North Queensland-based brothers appeared to have grown closer on one side of the wedge, while myself and our other Melbourne brother had formed our own alliance of sorts.

Over the past 27 years, little contact has been made across the great divide.


Old photos are all Shirley Sinclair has to remind her of a brother she lost touch with 27 years ago.
Old photos are all Shirley Sinclair has to remind her of a brother she lost touch with 27 years ago. CONTRIBUTED

Many times I tried.

But my estranged brothers were like ghosts. Internet searches brought up few clues to their whereabouts.

The four of us were all adult orphans. But I truly felt abandoned.

Meanwhile, my life continued on the Sunshine Coast: same job, same name, same address, same phone number.

My own young family and husband became my universe.

Anger took over. Then disinterest.

Now, with at least one of those two brothers, reconciliation is impossible ... 



THE call came at work.

Two days before a planned overseas trip, my mind was elsewhere.

I didn't know how to react, how to feel.

Some will condemn me for not going to the funeral.

He was my brother, after all.

At age 63, he was the first of the siblings to go. The third of four Sinclair children.

The black sheep.

The local police knew him by name in his teens because they'd attended our home in the quiet middle-class Brisbane suburban neighbourhood on several occasions over "disturbances" - usually involving shouting, storming off and sometimes even punches.

I remember feeling embarrassed about that - always taking his side even though I knew he was in the wrong in clashes with my mother.

I loved him and he knew how to manipulate me with his charm.

The call that ended our relationship also came at work.


My brother.

A colleague sitting near me at the time still remembers THAT call, even though it was 26 years ago.

It was unusual for him to ring me at work. I was glad, though, because I had some great news to share: I was pregnant with my eldest son.

I never got the chance to tell him.

He wanted $200 and no amount of me trying to change the subject kept him from his mission.

My voice became louder as I became angrier as the conversation became more heated

He said he would never speak to me again unless I lent him the money (in brother-speak, that meant "give").

In hindsight, I should have said: "Here you go and never again."

But I told him I wasn't "our mother", who always ended up giving in to him.

I gathered that he had blown his share of our parents' inheritance in only a year. So the famous Sinclair stubbornness won out and I refused.

True to his word, he never did speak to me again.

When his death finally hit me, the finality of it all is what hit me the hardest.

Somewhere deep inside, I guess I always thought we'd patch things up - I'd bump into him somewhere on my travels or I'd get a phone call out of the blue.

I used to look at strangers I passed anywhere in North Queensland where I suspected he still lived. Is that him?

I tried many times to "Google" him, to look him up in the White Pages or learn from other relatives where he was living without success.

Unbeknown to me then, he was trying to find me.

Too late now, but I have since found photos of him in our Airlie Beach newspaper files - a Sailability Whitsundays yacht launch and, of all things, a street poll.

The gut-wrenching thing is, his former partner reached out to me after the funeral and I now know he had wanted to find me, too. And I can't believe he couldn't.

He didn't realise I was still living in the same house he had visited after our mother died, that I held the same job in the same newspaper, hadn't changed from writing under my maiden name, hadn't changed the home phone number.

Over the three months since his death, my emotions have come to the surface.

Anger. Disappointment. Disbelief. Sadness. Sorrow. And I'm gutted we both wasted 26 years of our lives being stubborn.

Still, I can remember the good times ... and there were good times.

My last really happy memory of my brother was a secret afternoon spent in his home recording studio.


My brother.

At the time, he and Mum weren't speaking: a fairly regular occurrence in our family.

But my husband and I had agreed to go see him in his Boondall, home. I even wrote down an anonymous address - so Mum wouldn't suspect I'd gone behind her back to see him.

What followed was about four hours of me singing Monday, Monday - the Mamas and the Papas song - while he rehearsed me, reworked the tapes and added effects. He made a schoolgirl-choir misfit sound professional.

My brother was like that. He could make you feel special - whether it was while playing hockey against you in the backyard, taking you fishing at Tweed Heads, picking up the family to spend the day with grandkids, or even giving an unplugged concert of Beatles songs (Norwegian Wood and Blackbird always featured) in the garage under our two-storey family home in Brisbane.

For my 10th birthday, he bought me my first camera - starting a passion for photography I still cherish today.

He refused to take "no" from nursing staff when he rocked up outside visiting hours to see his little sister who had pneumonia at age eight.

My brother was my hero in those days. And it was all about the music.

He was the rock star in a Seventies Brisbane band, and he had my Grade 8 birthday party friends starstruck by his looks.

He would shout Mum, Dad and I lunch at Top of the State revolving restaurant where his band members were the resident entertainers.

I remember one Sunday when yet another of his bands was practising at the old Albion Rd house the band members shared. He told me to go answer the knock at the door.

He must have had a twinkle in his eye, knowing I'd be blown away to see Aussie legend Doug Parkinson, who'd just casually dropped by.

The water was his special place - fishing, boating and just feeling a sense of freedom.

So another memorable afternoon was spent in his latest little runaround boat at Shorncliffe when the motor failed and he and Dad had to row me back to shore.


My brother.

With his many talents and wide-ranging tech skills, he could do just about anything. But the money he received from his endeavours never seemed to last long in his hands.

He could be generous to a fault and a great percentage also went on booze and cigarettes, which he didn't mind any time of the day or night.

Now, all the money in the world won't bring him back or mend the great cavern that developed between us.

Putting my thoughts down has been cathartic to a point. But the words will never reach the ears they were meant for.

This is a cautionary tale. Don't make the same mistakes I made.

Make the call. Patch it up. Do it now.

Tomorrow may be too late.

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