Patrick Larcey has always been “dad on wheels” to daughter and long-time Manifold Heights actress Catherine, after he survived a plane accident in 1976.
But Catherine’s life changed dramatically in 2009 when a freak accident led to her taking over as his primary carer, as Luke Voogt discovers.
Catherine Larcey was still in her mother Patricia’s womb when her father Patrick survived a crash while testing a prototype airplane at Avalon in 1976.
The crash killed the other two crew members, including world-famous actor Guy Pearce’s father Stuart, and left Patrick paraplegic and using a wheelchair to get around.
“He has always been dad on wheels,” Catherine said.
Catherine remembered her parents’ determination growing up.
“Mum was an amazingly strong woman to look after dad and also to stay with him; a lot of people would have broken up over that,” she said.
“She would always make a joke out of any difficulty she faced and helped others cope.”
Patrick, now 81, continued to fly for decades and only stopped driving a few years ago.
“He still likes to go out – he’s well known by the maxi taxi people, who have been fantastic,” Catherine said.
“He wouldn’t let anything stop him. It’s only been the last four or five years that he’s been more dependent on me.”
Catherine tried to follow her parents’ example after a tree branch fell on her mother as she was walking her dogs on a windy day in August 2009.
“Mum would do anything to walk her dogs,” Catherine said.
The freak accident killed Patricia and turned Catherine’s life upside-down as she took over caring for her dad while grieving her mum.
“They had been together since 1971,” she said.
“My parents looked after me when I was young and now I’m just returning the favour.”
Catherine had just moved back in with her parents temporarily in May to save money to chase her acting dream in Los Angeles.
“I put my life on hold,” Catherine said.
“At the time I was single and everything sort of landed on me. It was pretty full on – we lived on Lite n’ Easy for a few weeks. I never got around to LA.”
For 11 years Catherine has helped her dad with hanging up washing, cooking, putting out the garbage, shopping and other everyday tasks, with help from family, carers and nurses.
“I was actually living with dad up until three years ago,” she said,
Catherine admits caring for dad was occasionally overwhelming, awkward or “all a bit too hard”.
But like her mother before her, she has turned to humour to help get past that.
“There are times where it’s extremely in-your-face and depressing,” she said.
“But there are times where you can have a real good laugh and it’s really strengthened our relationship.
“We’ve become a lot closer since mum passed and I appreciate my dad’s company, just as much as he appreciates mine.”
Patrick was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2019 which, thankfully, turned out to be benign.
Since COVID-19 hit Australia Catherine’s visits to ‘dad on wheels’ have increased. Some days she will spend several hours with him while others she will not see him at all.
“Obviously, things have changed since March,” she said.
“There was night earlier this year where I got a phone call at 11pm, as he had fallen out of the wrong side of bed and there was no way he could get back in.
“We’ve always found a way to get dad what he needs. Now he will only go out if he has a medical appointment.”
While Patrick missed catching up with friends over dinner, he was often on the phone to them or working on his decades-long project of writing a history book.
“That’s been keeping him busy,” Catherine said.
“He keeps himself amused.”
Amongst her busy life Catherine manages to find time for her passions –screenwriting and acting.
She has appeared in hit Australian TV series such as Neighbours and Wentworth, and is currently developing a web series named Disabled.
The comedy series was based on her caring for her dad, she explained.
But she stressed – with laughter – that some scenes in the series were completely fictional, like the carer mistaking marijuana tablets for vitamin C.
Recently she uploaded auditions on her phone for various Australian and international roles.
“It’s amazing what you can do online nowadays,” she said.
Throughout Carers Victoria has supported Catherine and put her in touch with many people in similar circumstances.
“Their Facebook page is so good,” she said.
The organisation estimates almost 3 million Victorians have provided unpaid care at some point in their lives.
“It’s ridiculous how many people are unpaid carers,” Catherine said.
Patrick is still going strong thanks to his daughter’s and wife’s care and support.
“I think it’s marvellous,” he said.
“It’s lovely having [Catherine] close by. I’ve been very grateful that she’s around.”
Despite the 1976 crash being a distant memory, he remembers the 90-second flight quite clearly, except for brief parts when he was unconscious.
“Time seems to stretch out when you’re in these situations,” he said.
“You have too many things to do and too little time to do them. I’m very grateful that I managed to survive and see my family grow up.”
His wife’s care helped him continue to fly until 2006 and his daughter helped him continue to drive long after.
“With a lot of help, I did what I Ioved for a long time,” he said.
He said his daughter takes after her mother in several ways.
“She gets on with things,” he said.
Carers Victoria is celebrating many like Catherine in its Truly Incredible Care campaign this month.