Champ of hard work

The West Australian - - OBITUARIES - Si­mon Collins with Ernie Man­ning EDITED BY AN­DREW BAIL­LIE

John Black­burn loved four-legged crea­tures, es­pe­cially dogs and horses, but the dairy farmer turned breeder of cham­pion thor­ough­breds also con­trib­uted much to the lives of the two-legged mam­mals in the Har­vey shire.

The leg­endary charmer blessed with wit and a cheeky grin was also a hard worker who proved that with com­mon sense, de­ter­mi­na­tion, self-be­lief, in­ge­nu­ity, blood, sweat and tears, you can build a suc­cess­ful and full life.

John died peace­fully at Har­vey Hos­pi­tal at the age of 94 on May 9, his wife of 72 years Joan — “his rock of Gi­bral­tar” — and youngest daugh­ter Ju­dith by his side.

Born in Mt Law­ley, he was the third of four sons for Agnes and Harry Black­burn. When he was still a baby, the fam­ily moved to Al­bany, where Harry man­aged the Freema­sons Ho­tel.

Around 1930, the Black­burns shifted to York to run the Im­pe­rial Ho­tel. Grow­ing up in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try taught the young John the value of man­ners and ser­vice.

While he played a good game of ten­nis, the com­pet­i­tive sports­man was a cham­pion swim­mer at Northam High School. The fam­ily moved again in 1940, this time to Cook­er­nup, where his fa­ther bought Home­bush, a 800ha farm, for 10,000 pounds. John won a schol­ar­ship to study ac­coun­tancy, but chose to re­turn to the farm.

Dur­ing World War II, John joined the Royal Aus­tralian Navy — he needed his fa­ther’s sig­na­ture as he was not 21.

Or­di­nary Seaman No. F5079 was only 17 when HMAS South­ern Cross ar­rived in Dar­win a few days af­ter 242 Ja­panese air­craft had bombed the harbour, caus­ing car­nage and an es­ti­mated 250 deaths.

John’s swim­ming prow­ess came to the fore in Dar­win.

While he did not of­ten dis­cuss his time in the navy, he told nephew Bruce Butcher of “div­ing un­der the ship with a knife in his mouth to cut away a rope that had tied around the pro­pel­ler while some­body stood on the deck with a gun to shoot croc­o­diles should they be­come too in­ter­ested in our Tarzan Black­burn”.

It was also while sta­tioned in Dar­win that John re­ceived a post­card from home. Joan had sent a photo, which he showed off to a fel­low ser­vice­man from Rock­ing­ham, who re­vealed that he had the same glamour shot.

Joan was just do­ing her bit for troop morale, but John ne­go­ti­ated a peace­time ac­cord and they mar­ried on April 17, 1947. The cou­ple set­tled into the shearer’s cot­tage on the fam­ily farm, to which John added a kitchen, bed­room, bath­room and ve­randa.

This was typ­i­cal of his life­long DIY ob­ses­sion — he built three dairies, nu­mer­ous sheds and, most no­tably, the Hil­lview home that still stands proudly on the Cook­er­nup prop­erty.

Farm du­ties came first, so the house took two years to build, with John later wiring the struc­ture him­self.

John and Joan had four kids in five years — Ray­mond, Brian, Nor­man and Robyn — fol­lowed five years later by Ju­dith.

When Harry Sr died, Home­bush was split in three, with John run­ning sheep and beef cat­tle be­fore re­luc­tantly chang­ing to more de­pend­able dairy farm­ing. He some­how found time for a busy so­cial life, which in­cluded golf, horserid­ing, shoot­ing, ten­nis, swim­ming and even wa­ter­ski­ing on Logue Brook Dam.

John also served on the Har­vey Shire Coun­cil and terms as pres­i­dent of the Yar­loop-Cook­er­nup branch of the Lib­eral Party and the Farm­ers’ Union. He also sat on sev­eral agri­cul­tural ad­vi­sory com­mit­tees.

“If that’s not enough, he was also cap­tain (for three years) and life mem­ber of the Har­vey Golf Club,” el­dest son Ray said in the eu­logy.

“No won­der Dad was worn out when he passed away — he had noth­ing left in the tank.”

When John and Joan scaled down from farm­ing, they turned to horse breed­ing. They bor­rowed $100,000 and trav­elled to New Zealand to buy three brood­mares, strik­ing gold with Sur­pris­ing, who foaled Rosamoss, Sur­prise Moss and Dusky Rosa. Rosamoss won the 1983 Boulder and Kal­go­or­lie Cups, while Sur­prise Moss won a Win­ter Cup at Bel­mont Park be­fore be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful sire.

Dusky Rosa won Perth races, but her true value emerged as an out­stand­ing brood­mare.

In 1997, her son Ebony Grosve won Group 1 races, in­clud­ing the Aus­tralian Derby at Rand­wick and MacKin­non Stakes at Flem­ing­ton, and ran eighth in that year’s Mel­bourne Cup.

Other top horses re­sult­ing from John’s breed­ing ven­tures in­cluded Macrosa, Mikasa and Zamelina.

A pro­ces­sion of dogs named Shadow and Dog shad­owed John around the farm, al­though his fi­nal pooch Susie was more com­pan­ion than work­ing dog.

John also had a pen­chant for four-wheeled beasts. His one ex­trav­a­gance be­gan with a Pre­fect, rolled through a Ford Con­sul and green sec­ond-hand Ford V8 be­fore he bought his beloved Ram­bler, which he main­tained for 35 years.

In 2012, John and Joan re­luc­tantly re­tired to Ho­cart Vil­lage in Har­vey, where John’s fa­mous drive for hard work did not com­pletely dis­ap­pear.

Vis­it­ing one day, sec­ond el­dest son Brian dis­cov­ered a 2m square of sand in the back­yard had been lev­elled.

“Un­der­stand­ing his (poor) mo­bil­ity, the only way he could have lev­elled that was on his hands and knees,” he ex­plained.

“Dad said ‘Ev­ery man needs to have a shed. I’m gonna put down some con­crete and build a shed’.”

The shed was never built. Fal­ter­ing health two years ago re­sulted in John mov­ing to Ho­cart Lodge Aged Cen­tre.

John is sur­vived by Joan, his broth­ers Harry, 96, and Basil, 90, plus five chil­dren, 14 grand­chil­dren and 21 (and count­ing) great-grand­chil­dren.

John Black­burn en­joyed great suc­cess breed­ing race­horses.

JOHN BLACK­BURN Farmer and race­horse breeder Born: Mt Law­ley, 1924 Died: Har­vey, aged 94

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