OAM honour for three locals
Three local legends were recognised for their service to the Southern Riverina, with Finley’s John Hand, Barooga’s John Bruce and former Tocumwal resident Greg Thompson announced as recipients of an Order of Australia Medal on Australia Day.
Both Mr Hand and Mr Bruce were acknowledged for their achievements at the Berrigan Shire Australia Day awards, while Mr Thompson was celebrated at an award ceremony in Queensland, where he now resides.
Mr Hand became just the fourth Finley resident to receive the honour.
If you drive around Finley and spot infrastructure created and funded by the community, there’s a chance Mr Hand has played a part in helping to achieve it.
The 71 year-old has done a tonne of service for the town and joins other Finley recipients Len Anderson, John Bolitho and Henry Matheson as an OAM.
The former Finley NSW Fire & Rescue captain has helped raise funds for Finley preschool (now Biralee), the recreation reserve lighting project and Berriquin Nursing Home (now Finley Regional Care).
Despite his dedication to his beloved town, including 40 years with the fire brigade — 30 were as captain — Mr Hand describe receiving his OAM as both humbling and embarrassing.
‘‘I admire the three others in town who have received an OAM,’’ he said.
‘‘I had many years alongside Henry Matheson in the fire brigade, we both did around 40 years and Henry was about 20 years before me.
‘‘I’m embarrassed to the extent I see some people around that I know have done so much for the community; there are so many ladies I can think of.
‘‘It is pleasing to see what has been done in town, and with a positive attitude.’’
Mr Hand has been part of the parent councils of the Finley Preschool, Finley Public School and Finley High School.
He was member of Finley Apex for 20 years, sat on the Murray Football League tribunal and was last year’s Berrigan Shire Citizen of the Year.
Mr Hand played a minor role in helping to build the preschool and nursing home, however he dedicates all of the efforts to the team he was working with.
‘‘I love the generosity and support of the community. Just being part of team is what I’ve enjoyed the most,’’ he said.
‘‘I was with Apex and as a group — with support from others — we raised the funds and built the bulk of the preschool as a team effort in 1971.
‘‘In 1978 I was part of the committee which helped put on the huge celebration for Finley’s settlement.
‘‘What I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of is seeing things that you’ve done. There are so many wonderful people in Finley.
‘‘There were three teams to raise funds for the nursing home; I was a coordinator. We had to raise $600,000 from the community and the rest would come from government.
‘‘At the time it was called the Berriquin Nursing Home and it was the first non-privately owned nursing home in NSW to have individual rooms.
‘‘To go down there and see the bricks and mortar as one small member of a big team and what it has grown into is special.
‘‘I was asked to help raise funds for the recreation reserve lights. When they were built they were the best in the Riverina.
‘‘None of those things were possible without the generosity of local people.’’
Mr Hand says he’s a proud husband to wife Val and the father of two to Clare and Michael, plus a devout Collingwood supporter.
Although he’s a retired firefighter he still oversees the Finley crew for the Fire Championships Association.
Finley has been a four time state champion during Mr Hand’s time with the team.
‘‘Everything that is done in competition is related to being more efficient on the fire ground.’’
As captain of the Finley Fire & Rescue team, Mr Hand would deal with town fires and incidents, as well as highway incidents and hazardous clearing.
‘‘It was a great team to work with and to be involved with, all with the common goal of life and protection of property.
‘‘My responsibility was to help look after the crew and one incident I can remember that was particularly dangerous was when the Albion Hotel caught fire in 1990.
‘‘In my 41 years we never lost anyone in a house fire, but unfortunately there were highway accidents.
‘‘You didn’t know what you were going to find inside (a building). But like all incidents you had to have your fingers crossed a roof wouldn’t fall on top of you or your crew.’’
As time went on Mr Hand saw improvements which helped his fire crew.
‘‘When I started there wasn’t any breathing apparatus, and as time went on they introduced a terminal imaging camera that would detect the hot spots in a house.
‘‘The fire brigade became more proactive in little things such as making sure all houses had a working smoke detector.
‘‘We also went to local schools for demonstrations with simulated kitchen fires, though I didn’t do a lot of that.’’
Mr Hand says his motivation to work for the community came from his father and maternal grandfather.
Finley’s John Hand was awarded an OAM for his commitment to the Finley community.