17 November 2022

Canberra remembers a local legend: Greg Cusack

| Sally Hopman
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Man cutting birthday cake

Greg Cusack celebrates his 90th birthday on April 30, 2020. Photo: Cusack family.

Ever since the first Cusack arrived in Australia, they have made their mark.

The first was Timothy Cusack, whose punishment for reportedly refusing to sign an oath in the Mother Country, was a life sentence in Australia, with the young man arriving here on 30 January, 1828. By 1853, he sponsored his nephews, Michael and Timothy – at four pounds each for passage – to also come out to the colonies.

This week, the vast Cusack clan came together in Canberra to celebrate the life of one of its best, Gregory Cusack, who played a crucial role in the start of a dynasty, a connection that bonded Yass to Canberra, that continues to this day.

Gregory Cusack was the great-grandson of Michael Cusack, a man, his funeral was told on November 14, who was one of the best.

He was also a man of many talents: racing and rally car driver, champion Santa Gertrudis breeder, successful businessman, tennis player and traveller, but above all, a devoted husband to Dorothy and father of Catherine, Jane, Sara and Greg and their families.

“He was one of the first true native Canberrans,” his daughter Catherine said at his funeral at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Manuka, on 14 November. “He was raised just a few hundred metres from where we are today at St Christopher’s school.

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“For our family, he represented resilience, grit, determination but also a fabulous sense of humour and fun. Dad never let his family down and that is the richest inheritance imaginable.

“He was always a human force field around his family, a man who always carried too much of the load … who shunned drama and who had astonishing humility.”

Greg Cusack was born on April 30, 1930 to Greg Cusack and Eileen Barry, a Yass girl. His grandfather John Joseph, also known as Fardie, had legendary status in Canberra circles. “He was a self-taught man,” Greg told his volunteer biographer, Leigh Baker, who recorded his story last month when Greg was being cared for by the Sacred Heart Palliative team. “He had a Webster’s dictionary about a foot thick and he knew every word in it.”

John Joseph or JJ, as he was known, started his political life as mayor of Yass in 1903 and by 1908 had become a member of the Yass Federal City League, responsible for naming Canberra as the nation’s capital, reportedly casting the final vote. The family’s political tradition was to live on in Greg’s eldest daughter Catherine, who in 2003, was elected to the NSW Upper House for the Liberal Party, mentioning in her maiden speech her connection to JJ Cusack.

Old couple

The happiest of couples, Greg and Dorothy Cusack. Photo: Cusack family.

Greg Cusack was a successful businessman, particularly with cars, running a number of VW and Ford dealerships across Canberra. His family remembers him buying in 1960 the first computer for a motor dealership in Canberra, a huge lump of a thing. “It was activated by rods pushing things up and down and you had to use a small 40-hole punch card for the input and yet virtually all it achieved was adding up correctly and producing an invoice. That was the sum total of its capacity,” Greg told his biographer.

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Not only did he sell cars, Greg also proved a success at racing them, participating in car rallies with his father across Australia, including at the first Bathurst race. A highlight was competing in Monte Carlo in 1959, speeding along the small municipality’s roads, covered with snow. Greg was late to the race because no one had provided instructions. He was later to describe the track as being three to four deep with people for miles on both sides of the narrow road. They got their speed up to 100 miles per hour (about 170 km/h), “and no one arrested us … I swear the [spectators] were only about a foot away from our outside mirrors,” he recalled.

But if you had to tell only one story of Greg Cusack’s life, it would be the love story with his wife Dorothy. Because of their different religions, there was initial family conflict about their possible match. The first time Greg took her out, he brought her home late and Dorothy’s father forbade him from seeing her again.

Man looking at cows

Greg Cusack looking at his Santa Gertrudis cattle on the family’s Yass farm, Walgrove. Photo: Cusack family.

But, as luck would have it, Dorothy was soon to start nursing college so she could come and go as she pleased. The initial family differences were to later disappear.

“It was a love story of Shakespearean proportions,” daughter Jane said at the celebration of his life.

The couple, she said, described the extra time Greg was given after his diagnosis, as “a gift”.

“He told her he was setting aside 19 December as his next goal for survival. ‘Why’, she asked? Because that would be the 70th anniversary of their first date.”

Greg Cusack is survived by his wife Dorothy, children Catherine, Jane, Sara and Greg and grandchildren, Joshua, Lachlan, Sebastian, Lily, Abigail and Tom.

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Capital Retro11:59 am 17 Nov 22

Greg was one of the first people I met when I moved to Canberra 40 years ago. He was a very honest and trusting businessman and it was always a pleasure to meet with him on business or social occasions.

I will always remember a sign adjacent to his office door at Gregorys Motors in Braddon. It read “It’s nice to be important but it’s important to be nice”.

I remember that. Working in stock control at Gregory’s was my first job when I arrived in Canberra in ‘84.

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