Geraldton tradie rebuilds life after tragedy

Headshot of Peter Sweeney
Peter SweeneyGeraldton Guardian
Email Peter Sweeney
Robbie Callow with his bricklaying tools.
Camera IconRobbie Callow with his bricklaying tools. Credit: Peter Sweeney, The Geraldton Guardian

The massive limestone retaining wall bricklayer Robbie Callow is building is easy to see.

What is not as obvious, but is much more impressive, is the way he is rebuilding his life.

Mr Callow, 48, and younger brother Brendan, are working on Geraldton’s newest “wow” construction — a stone retaining wall at Tarcoola.

Drive in, or out, of the city on Brand Highway, look up and the sheer size of it hits you.

The wall is being built by a private householder, who has to stop her yard from “sliding down the slippery slope”.

“Been here months and there’s months to go,” Mr Callow said of the job.

He can put a finish date on the impressive construction which is going to have a “snakes and ladders” look about it. Not so his re-building as a person.

On October 5, 2013, his life, and that of his nine children, changed forever when his partner Christine Ryan and his cousin Horace Bynder were killed.

The respected Yamaji pair, both aged 40, were hit by a car while they were walking along Chapman Valley Road in Waggrakine.

It sparked angry protests, when hundreds of people demanded jail for the driver of the car.

Desmond James Petersen was sentenced to 4 1/2 years jail after being found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident, failing to render assistance and failing to report an accident.

“We had nine children, the oldest at the time being 23 or 24 and the youngest being three or four,” Mr Callow said.

“Now I’ve got nine grandchildren, a few have been born since Christine died. It’s been tough, but we’re getting there.”

Geraldton Natural Limestone owner Graeme Whyatt said Mr Callow was a great role model for Aboriginal people.

“I cannot speak highly enough of Robbie,” Mr Whyatt said.

“He did his (bricklaying) apprenticeship with me about 25 years ago, moved on, but has now done the full circle. I couldn’t be happier.

“Not only has he had to work, but also play Mr Mum since his wife died.

“Sometimes he has to arrive late or leave early, because he might have sick kids or have to take them here or there or go and coach basketball.

“But he just keeps going on and on.”

It’s much like his present job. “I’ve had some big ones, this as big as any,” Mr Callow said.

“I wouldn’t like to be paying for it. We’ve suggested to the lady (owner) she could charge people to run up and down it and use it as an exercise park.”

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails