Vol­un­teer­ing and pen­ny­far­things

Ovens & Murray Advertiser - North East Regional Extra - - Front Page - By CO­RAL COOKSLEY

FOR Beech­worth’s John Hen­nessy ESM, vol­un­teerism is the back­bone of com­mu­ni­ties - it’s what makes them tick.

The lo­cal leg­end who is also known in Beech­worth for rid­ing his pen­ny­far­thing on spe­cial oc­ca­sions around town was awarded the Emer­gency Ser­vices Medal in this year’s Queen’s Birth­day Honours for out­stand­ing vol­un­teer ser­vice to the Vic­to­rian State Emer­gency Ser­vices (VICSES).

“There are 5000 VICSES vol­un­teers who do an amaz­ing job and I was flab­ber­gasted to learn I was awarded a mer­i­to­ri­ous medal,” he said.

The quiet achiever sees him­self as “just a lit­tle cog who works co­op­er­a­tively in a big team.”

With a strong be­lief that com­mu­ni­ties can­not func­tion with­out vol­un­teers, John en­joys “giv­ing back” and at­tributes SES stan­dards and val­ues in help­ing to de­fine who he is today.

A proud SES vol­un­teer for more than three decades, the en­er­getic 80-year-old has worked mainly in North East Vic­to­ria but has been de­ployed across the state and in­ter­state dur­ing dis­as­ter emer­gen­cies.

His ded­i­ca­tion in im­prov­ing vol­un­teerism, and en­hanc­ing the vol­un­teer ex­pe­ri­ence at VICSES has in­cluded many roles across sev­eral SES units and has earned him state-wide peer and staff re­spect.

Roles have in­cluded help­ing to es­tab­lish the North East’s Re­gional Sup­port Unit at Be­nalla, and aid­ing in the re­build of the Tal­lan­gatta Unit, men­tor­ing new con­trollers and at­tend­ing ma­jor flood and fire events.

Presently Myrtle­ford SES unit’s deputy con­troller, Mr Hen­nessy has been a team mem­ber for the last 12 years along with mem­ber­ship on var­i­ous VICSES state com­mit­tees.

“Be­ing part of a vol­un­teer or­gan­i­sa­tion that does good things, one gets a buzz, learns new skills and en­joys great ca­ma­raderie too.”

While the SES has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in John’s life, he cred­its four in­cred­i­bly strong women - his mother, grand­mother and two aunts - in shap­ing his life from an early age.

“My fa­ther was called up for war ser­vice nine days af­ter I was born - he was a WWII Burma Rail­way Pris­oner of War sur­vivor.”

“Liv­ing in Bris­bane, my mother and I re­turned home to our 6,000 acre fam­ily prop­erty near Wagga Wagga where th­ese in­de­pen­dent women man­aged the prop­erty with lit­tle as­sis­tance and I didn’t see my dad un­til I was five.”

“My early years on the farm gave me a sense of in­de­pen­dence and self re­liance.”

“And my fa­ther al­ways im­pressed upon me the value of mate­ship, co­op­er­a­tion and work­ing to­gether as a team for the greater good.”

“The North East is a great place to live, a life­style choice for many, and such an in­ter­est­ing part of the world, why wouldn’t you want to be a vol­un­teer and con­trib­ute to your com­mu­nity?”

John de­scribes a vol­un­teer as some­one who uses their skills and ini­tia­tive in a self­less way - they see some­thing that needs to be done with­out any thought of re­ward.

“There are so many vol­un­teer or­gan­i­sa­tions and I be­lieve they make Beech­worth and the North East en­gag­ing and dy­namic places, and I want to be part of that.”

With a pas­sion for cy­cling, John also put his vol­un­teer hand up as a cy­cling of­fi­cial for both the Syd­ney Olympics and Par­a­lympics in 2000 and in Mel­bourne, the World Ju­nior Track Cham­pi­onships in 2002 and in 2004, and the World Masters Games in 2006.

John fell in love with pen­ny­far­things af­ter read­ing ‘Mulga Bill’ as a child and has vol­un­teered his time rid­ing his pen­ny­far­thing at spe­cial events such as The Golden Horse Shoes Fes­ti­val.

He has also con­trib­uted his time rid­ing the pen­ny­far­thing when help­ing to sup­port cy­cle tourism in draw­ing vis­i­tors to Beech­worth and the High Coun­try with Tourism North East’s ‘Ride High Coun­try Cam­paign.’

“I’ve al­ways loved bi­cy­cles and I en­joy rid­ing my pen­ny­far­thing on the rail trail and streets of Beech­worth to buy the pa­per, go to the Beech­worth Bak­ery and grab a cof­fee,” he said.

“They’re so easy to ride but you need mo­men­tum - they’re hard to get on and off.”

Apart from be­ing a vol­un­teer, John en­joys a drop of good wine.

A trip to Hunter Val­ley in 1959 when liv­ing in Syd­ney hooked his in­ter­est in wine long be­fore the Aus­tralian wine in­dus­try boom.

“An in­ter­ested con­sumer, I read a marvel­lous book ‘Jour­ney To Wine In Vic­to­ria’ by WS Ben­well, and de­cided to visit all 28 vine­yards in the state which kicked off for my jour­ney in the wine in­dus­try.

“There were less vine­yards then in Vic­to­ria than there are in Beech­worth today.

“I left Aus­tralia for Lon­don in my early 20s with an am­bi­tion to be­come a wine mer­chant. My first job was a wine de­liv­ery man on a bike with a bas­ket and big wheel at the back!”

“I tripped across to France and Ger­many to work in the vine­yards dur­ing vin­tages.”

Away for six years, John worked for var­i­ous wine com­pa­nies in­clud­ing IDV now part of Louis Vuit­ton Moet Hen­nessy, Peter Do­minic, Har­rods and Civil Ser­vice Stores.

“I also won a schol­ar­ship from one of Ger­many’s big­gest wine pro­duc­ers Wal­ter Sichel where I spent a month study­ing.

“Re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia, I worked in the grow­ing wine in­dus­try at Sep­pelts and Len Evans Cel­lar in Syd­ney fol­lowed by Bai­leys of Glen­rowan, then 14 vin­tages in Tas­ma­nia, and have lived in Beech­worth since 1999 which is where I call home.”

PHOTO: cour­tesy Tourism North East

◆ RID­ING HIGH: Beech­worth’s John Hen­nessy with Tourism North East’s ‘Ride High Coun­try’ am­bas­sador and world moun­tain bik­ing cham­pion Paul van der Ploeg from Mount Beauty.

PHOTO: Ash­leigh Piles

◆ QUIET ACHIEVER: John Hen­nessy ESM has an out­stand­ing list of achieve­ments to his name for the past three decades as an SES vol­un­teer.

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