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