Thursday, March 11, 2021

Eulogy for William Kenneth Simpson

Written and spoken by Annabel Barr


Bill Simpson 26th July 1939 - 16th February 2021

Our Dad, Bill Simpson, was born in Hay at the Maternity Unit on the corner of Lachlan and Cadell Streets, on the 26thJuly, 1939, forty days before the start of World War II.


His father, Tom, came up to the Mat Unit and his mother, Marjorie (yes, the original, Marj Simpson), said, “I think I might call the baby, Jarvis.” Legend has it, that Tom didn’t say a word, he just quietly excused himself, walked around to the Birth Registry at the Court House and put Dad’s name down as William Kenneth Simpson.


The first five years of Dad’s life were spent at Red Hill Station, 55km south west of Hay, with his parents, Tom and Marj and his older sister, Judy. The property had come into the family from Dad’s Uncle Mick, who drew it as a soldier settler block in 1917, upon his return from Gallipoli. Mick died from a car accident near Booroorban in 1928 and Red Hill was transferred to his younger brother, our Grandfather, Tom, in a bedside will that was drawn up at the hospital before Mick died. The property was then leased for several years before Tom took it over after he married Marj in 1934.


Life at Red Hill was somewhat primitive back in the early 1940s; there was no electricity, no telephone and no running water. There was a rainwater tank and it was plumbed to a tap on the veranda. There was a house cow called “Wild Eyes” that provided milk, and a Coolgardie Safe for perishable food. The Coolgardie Safe was a box type storage unit that you put water in the tank on top and it had hessian sides that soaked up the water and through evaporation, it kept the butter, meat and milk cool.


Dad’s earliest memory was of the severe drought in the early 1940s, where he remembered a wall of dust rolling in with a dust storm in the afternoon and it became pitch black. He could vividly recall his Mother lighting the kerosene lamps and the strong wind of the dust storm blowing.  


Towards the end of 1945, following the death of our great-grandmother, Dad, our Aunt Judy and Grandparents, Tom and Marj, moved into Hay to live at the Simpson family home, “Penalva” at 242 Pine Street. Dad and Judy attended the Hay Public School.


Later, Dad attended the Hay War Memorial High School. At the beginning of 1955, fifteen-year-old Dad went on a six-month trip to Europe aboard the P&O ship, SS Otranto with the Young Australia League or YAL whose motto was, “Education through Travel.” This trip gave Dad a lifelong love of world history and travel. The ship sailed from Fremantle to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), across to Yemen, up the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal to Port (Side) Said in Egypt and across the Mediterranean to Naples in Italy where the group travelled by bus throughout Europe, England, Scotland and Ireland. 


Dad arrived back in Australia on his sixteenth birthday. He returned to school but had to repeat Year 9 because of the length of time he’d been away. Dad confessed that he pretty much lost interest in his formal schooling after that and only passed three subjects in his final year in 1957; Modern History; Geography and English. For the rest of his life, however, Dad remained a voracious reader and continued his lifelong learning through books.


In January 1958 Dad went to Nap Nap Station, on the Murrumbidgee River near Maude to work as a jackaroo for the Ronald Family. (Dad was very proud of the fact that sixty years later in 2018, his eldest Grandson, Max, started working at Nap Nap.) On his first day working at Nap Nap, Dad had to catch a horse, saddle it and ended up riding eighteen miles; it was the first time he’d ridden a horse since, “Chummy” a Shetland pony he’d had at Red Hill when he was little – it had died in the drought in 1945. He said he was very sore the next day but you just had to keep on working! He was at Nap Nap for twelve months before heading north for a two-and-a-half-year stint in Queensland, working first at Natal Downs and then at Dotswood Station near Charters Towers. 


Dotswood was twelve hundred square miles and divided into three camps; Dad went to the Star River Camp and worked there until the end of March 1961. 


Dad was a gifted storyteller and we grew up listening to his yarns; particularly his stories from the Star River days. A few weeks ago, Dad told me that there’s a Hungarian expression: You remember the name of the first girl you fell in love with; the name of the best teacher that ever taught you and the name of the best horse you ever rode. Back in 1991, Rachel interviewed Dad and typed up this story from his Star River days. These are Dad’s words:


“Steamboat was, without a doubt, the best horse I have ever ridden. He was not a very big horse, he was a dark bay gelding about 15hh, but he had a heart as big as a lion’s, and he was extremely sure-footed.

The biggest ride I ever had with him was one time when we were camped up in the Star basin. We had ridden out before daylight and got up to the head-waters of Dinner Creek, which was on a different watershed to the Star – up to the South East. It was 900 to 1000 feet up in the Paluma Ranges, and we were riding out on a ridge that gave a good view of the head-waters of the Dinner Creek catchment.


We noticed some wild cattle, twenty, maybe twenty-five head of cleanskins, piker bullocks, old spayed cows, cows and calves, a very mixed lot, and all very wild. They were on the ridge and they hadn’t seen us when we spotted them. So, we stopped, and John Brathwaite and John Murphy got off their horses and led them down a vertical cliff practically, right down underneath them and came up on the other side. Fred Kreadiman, old Eric and myself were spread out across the ridge. The two Johns livened the cattle up and sent them back towards us and we were going to block them up and try to hold them on this ridge. As it turned out it was a bit of an optimistic plan…


Anyhow the two Johns started and the cattle raced back towards us. They went straight through Fred and old Eric, there was a spur leading off the ridge that dropped down at a very sharp angle and then turned and went parallel to the ridge, still going down. Before they got to me, the cattle turned down this spur, and I left after them with Steamboat. Two broke to the right and went down into the Dinner Creek catchment, which I missed, and by the time I’d reached where the spur turned and changed back parallel with the ridge, I was at full gallop.


The cattle had turned and gone down along the spur and there was no way that I could turn and go down with them. So, all I could do was go straight off the end where the spur turned. I’d not the faintest idea what was there – I was just hoping that there was something to stand on.


When I crossed over the top at full gallop I hit a mass of broken rock, and I thought “Well, there’s no way in the world this horse can keep his feet.” However, I loosened the reins and let him have his head, and Steamboat just put his head down and went straight over them. There must have been forty or fifty yards of broken rock, and he didn’t miss his footing once, he just kept going at full gallop.


By this time the cattle were on the other side of the spur and I couldn’t see any of them, so I kept going at full gallop straight down the spur. It went for another four or five hundred yards, I would think, it was a long way. I came out at the bottom and I was about ten yards in front of the leading cattle. They got such a fright that they just stopped and stood there, they didn’t know what to do. I’d say no one had ever been in front of them on horseback in their lives.

With the fright they got, and with me riding ‘round in front of them, I blocked them up. In about another three or four minutes the rest of the men caught up and we had them. However, it was a very difficult job holding them. The first beast to break was an old piker bullock who had the biggest set of horns I’ve ever seen before or since. It was a brindle, Brahman-cross bullock, and when he broke, he literally came straight at Steamboat, who just stood his ground, side on to this bullock, and when he got close enough, this bullock had one horn ‘round Steamboat’s chest and the other ‘round his hindquarters. At that stage I pulled the .32 calibre pistol I had strapped to the saddle and shot him in the nose. Well that slowed him up considerably and he backed off. 


We held them there for a bit longer and two cleanskin bulls, which were obviously going to break, they were old bulls, three or four years old. We shot them where they stood because there was no way in the world that we could have moved them with the mob. We were just about to move off and this piker bullock I’d shot in the nose came again. He must have taken an intense dislike of Steamboat because he came straight out at him again. This time I missed his nose and shot him fair between the horns and down he went, dead.


We spent the rest of the day bringing that couple of dozen cattle back to the yards at the Big Star Basin. It was without a doubt the greatest ride I’ve ever had on any horse. How Steamboat kept his feet coming down that broken rock I’ll never know.


Dotswood Station, Queensland 1960. Dad, 2nd from the left.

That night when we were quietly yarning about how things had gone that day, Fred Kreadiman, the Head Stockman, claimed that it reminded him of the poem “The Man from Snowy River”. He’d never seen a horse come through broken rock like it.” 


In April 1961, Dad came back to Red Hill to work with his father. Early in 1963, David Alcock, a friend who worked east of Hay on “Gre Gre” for Ford Parker (*fun fact for Barham people: Ford Parker was a brother of Edgar Pickles’ navigator during WWII), David asked Dad to be a groomsman at his wedding to Annette Fraser in New Zealand along with the Best Man, Maurice Gibson, and their friend, Sandy Circuitt came as a guest. 


Dad first set eyes on our Mother at her family farm, “Gatcombe” on the North Island of New Zealand. They were there for afternoon tea to meet everyone before the wedding, Mum walked out of the dining room and onto the lawn carrying a plate of scones. Dad hadn’t realised that Annette had a younger sister (cue dramatic music!) The rest as they say, is history. A trans-Tasman romance blossomed. Mum came out to Australia later in 1963 and said it was quite a shock to experience the Old Man Plain around Hay for the first time and out to Red Hill, where there was only one tree on the whole place. Vastly different from the 40-inch annual rainfall and lush, rolling hills that she had grown up on in New Zealand. Mum and Dad were married in St John’s Anglican Church in Feilding, New Zealand, on the 14th April 1966. 

Dad and Mum on their Wedding Day 1966


They began their married life at Adelong Station, north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.


Our Grandfather Tom became very ill and died in August that year. Dad and Mum returned to the Hay district and took over the running of Red Hill. They built a home on a claypan, planted some trees and roses and made a family. Tom arrived in 1968, followed by me in 1970, Rachel arrived in the flood year of 1973 and our younger brother, Bruce, completed our family, arriving in 1975.


Life continued with many happy moments for all of us as well as the normal challenges of living in rural Australia; commodity price fluctuations, floods, droughts and bushfires. Then in March 1988, tragedy struck when Bruce died in a farming accident. Bruce’s death affected all of us deeply, none more so than Dad and Mum. It is a testament to both their individual strength of character and resilience, and the strength of their enduring love and support for each other, that they navigated their way through this terrible time in our lives.  


Dad had a great love of rural Australia and in 1989 he and Mum together with their close friends, David and Jenny Yencken, headed off to the outback. Travelling through central Australia, Dad celebrated his 50th birthday on the shores of Lake Eyre. It was a great thrill for him to return there by plane for his 80th birthday in 2019; Mum, Rachel, myself, Woolly and Henry, were able to join him on the three-day flying adventure. Dad shared a quiet drink with Henry at the Birdsville Pub to celebrate his 80th and an early 18th for Henry. 

Me, walking with Dad near the Burke and Wills Dig Tree on Napppa Merrie Station, Queensland 2019
Photo credit: Rachel Gordon 


Dad was also fortunate to experience a number of overseas trips. In 2005 Dad took all of us to Fiji for a family holiday. Dad and Mum went to Canada and Alaska in 2011 and the Cook Islands in 2016 to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary.


Dad had an enquiring mind and was genuinely interested in everything and everyone he met. For an orderly person, Dad’s workshop was the stuff of nightmares but there was nothing he couldn’t build, repair or engineer from it.


He loved a good vehicle and bought an HZ Kingswood V8 for a farm ute. I think he viewed it as a personal challenge to set a new land speed record each weekday morning, driving us the 13km to the Sturt Highway to catch the school bus – in all those years, we never once missed the bus, not even the morning we spun out of control on the wet grass and skidded straight through a wire fence!


In November 1994, I was away and Dad was looking after my prized kelpie bitch, Spook, when she picked up a fox-bait and became seriously ill. A quick phone call to our local vet, Wayne Gardam, advised that he might’ve been able to save her if she was in town but being 55km out of town was just too far away. Not to be deterred, Dad gently loaded Spook into the Mazda 929 sedan. It was late on a Saturday afternoon and the legendary Hay B&S Ball was on that night. Afterwards, Dad confided with me that he had roared down the highway at 210 km/hr, overtaking jackaroos in their V8 utes, ten at a time, and made it to the veterinary clinic in time for Wayne to save Spook.


Dad was incredibly proud of all his family and when grandchildren began appearing on the scene, he was prouder still. He joked that he had waited all his life to earn the title, Grand Father and laughed when Max, learning to talk, christened him Father Bill.  


Dad dedicated his working life to Red Hill and breeding medium wool merinos. He had a long association with both Caroonboon and Uardry Merino Studs. In particular, Dad enjoyed his involvement over the years with the Peppin Shaw Flock Ewe Competition, that was held each year in the Hay district and the Annual Hay Sheep Show. 


The 29th April 2017 marked one hundred years of Simpsons at Red Hill Station. This milestone was a significant occasion and Dad and Mum were extremely proud to host a Centenary Celebration Luncheon in the garden with their extended family and friends.


Dad loved company and social outings. He was an active member of the Waradgery Club in Hay for over sixty years. He deeply loved the Club and had many happy times there and even in his later years, participated in Club functions and outings. His other great love was Thoroughbred horse racing and he remained an active member of the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) and Melbourne Racing Club, attending many Spring Carnivals over the years.


In 2018, Dad and Mum started a new chapter in their lives by moving to Barham to live. Dad took to Barham life like a duck to water, mainly because he could sit and read in his favourite chair to his heart’s content. He enjoyed daily walks hand in hand with Mum and becoming part of another close-knit rural community that is very similar to Hay. 


Dad was a man we loved and admired and the wisest man we knew. He was strong, honest, kind and funny. His good manners were impeccable; a gentleman through and through. It’s so hard to conclude his life story and while I struggled to find the words, Tom read out this beautiful poem by the great Scottish poet, Robbie Burns, who lived from 1759 – 1796. 


Epitaph On A Friend

An honest man here lies at rest,

As (air) e’er God with His image blest:

The friend of man, the friend of truth;

The friend of Age, and guide of Youth:

Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,

Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:

If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;

If there is none, he made the best of this.


Mum and Dad, looking out from Mount Macedon, Victoria, February 2021



Friday, April 17, 2020

The Post Easter Egg Diet

Easter 2020 has been and gone, Good Friday was over a week ago and I’ve been social-distancing for thirty-eight days… and counting. 

The temporary but at this stage, indefinite, closure of my massage therapy business, social-distancing and the threat of a strange, new virus, has not done wonders for my waistline. I don’t know what it is about global pandemics and carbohydrates but I’ve been embracing the latter like there’s no tomorrow.

While some people have been resurrecting their dreams of learning a new language or completing university degrees online, I’ve resurrected my bread machine that has lived unused and unloved under the kitchen sink for the past decade. The resulting deliciousness has not gone unnoticed on my hips. 

There’s nothing like having your weekly income reduced to zero to make you appreciate every item in your pantry. Even those items in the far back corner of the pantry that may have passed their Best Before dates the better part of quite some time ago, are now suddenly looking far too good to throw out. A one kilo bag of mixed dried fruit from 2017 was beautifully revived after soaking it in some cheap brandy for 36 hours – hello, hot cross buns. I discovered a tin of water chestnuts from 2002 – still as crunchie and tasteless as the day they were made. A tiny jar of anchovies from 2013, proved to be a great addition to my eggplant parmigiana the other week. Vintage self-raising flour with a few weevils? Sift out those critters and get baking!

While all this additional experimental cooking has been fun; spending my days cooking and eating is not doing wonders for my physical or mental health. It’s time to introduce a bit of structure and direction back into my life, lose a couple of kilos and perhaps write a bestselling diet book that pays the bills.

Weight loss is a fairly basic concept, you need to burn up more energy than you feed yourself. It’s all so simple and yet so hard to achieve, especially when you are spending your days cooking delicious meals in social isolation… you can’t invite your family and friends around for dinner, so you end up eating the whole lot, yourself.

Meal replacements in the form of shakes or nutrition bars are very popular with people wanting to lose weight and a handy money earner for multilevel marketing (MLM) distributors, retail diet companies and some doctors. I’ve decided that, I want in on this multi-billion-dollar weight loss industry, so I’ve come up with a diet of my own, specifically for this time of year. I give you, “The Post Easter Egg Diet”. Combining the principals of meal replacement, clean eating and AIF (almost intermittent fasting) into an exceptionally easy and affordable two-week diet.

The concept: eat a nutritionally sound breakfast, make lunch the main meal of the day and for dinner, eat one hard-boiled egg. That’s it.

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to spin this out into a bestselling diet book of any great length but at this stage, I’ve got time on my side. 

Annie Barr

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Eulogy for Edgar Lewis Pickles

Written and spoken by Annie Barr
England's last remaining flying Lancaster Bomber - flying over us at the RAF Waddington International Air Show 2012

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Edgar had an old, grease stained poster of these words stuck prominently on a cupboard door in his kitchen at Cadell; he followed that advice for his entire life. Edgar viewed every new day as a gift.

Edgar Lewis Pickles was born on the 10thNovember 1920, and grew up on a farm near Rand in NSW with his younger brother, Bill and his adored younger sister, Gwennie. 

Towards the end of the 1920s when Edgar was eight or nine, his two favourite aunts paid for Edgar to have a flight over Corowa with legendary Australian aviator, Charles Kingsford Smith in his original tri-motor monoplane the “Southern Cross”. The same plane Kingsford Smith had flown to complete the first ever trans-Pacific flight to Australia from the mainland United States in June 1928. Edgar said it was a tremendous experience, he recalled the floorboards shaking and talking to “Smithy” as they flew over Corowa. Edgar was always very proud of the fact that that flight was the first entry in his RAAF Flying Log Book.

Edgar rode his pony, Dainty, four and a half miles to primary school at Morebringer. High school was in Corowa and Edgar rode his pushbike there each day, a 26 mile (42km) round trip. A keen student, Edgar enjoyed mathematics, geography and technical drawing. Topping his class of fifty students in his first year at high school, Edgar was then allowed to miss the second year altogether and go straight into third year where he completed his intermediate certificate before returning to the family farm at Rand to work alongside his father.

In 1939, Edgar joined the 8thLight Horse Regiment. In 1940 Edgar was part of the 3rdCavalry Division in Torquay while bushfires were raging in the area, half of the township of Torquay was destroyed by fire but Edgar said, “We fought valiantly and saved the pub!”

Later in 1940, Edgar enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as aircrew and completed his first solo flight on the 27thNovember 1941 in a DH.82 Tiger Moth. They were an easy aircraft to handle and because they were the first aircraft Edgar flew, they always held a very special place in his flying experience. 

Edgar loved aerobatics and used to fly out over the Fairymead sugar mill near Bundaberg QLD and do gliding loops, loops, slow rolls, and his special manoeuvre – a half roll out of a stall turn.

By 1943 Edgar was in England with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command and piloting an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber powered by four Rolls Royce Merlin engines, night after night over Europe. 

A total of 55,573 airmen died flying for the RAF Bomber Command during World War Two. Of the total RAAF bomber crew who served with Bomber Command, 35 percent or 3,486 were killed.

Edgar was twenty-two years old when he flew his first Lancaster and by the time the war ended two years later he risen from Sergeant Pilot to Squadron Leader with a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and Bar. The DFC is awarded for “an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy” and the bar is added to the ribbon for holders of the DFC who received a second award.

His first DFC citation reads: Pilot Officer PICKLES has displayed outstanding courage and determination in many attacks on major and heavily defended targets in Germany. 

One night in July, 1943, this officer was pilot and captain of a bomber ordered to attack Hamburg. While proceeding to make the attack the aircraft was engaged by enemy fighters and two of Pilot Officer PICKLE’S crew were killed and a third seriously injured.

Nevertheless this officer displayed masterly airmanship and succeeded in evading his assailants and flew the aircraft safely back to the United Kingdom.

Edgar’s second DFC citation reads: Throughout two tours of operational duty, Squadron Leader PICKLES had maintained his zest, enthusiasm and determination for operational flying.

Since the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross he has flown on sorties during the worst winter weather and in the face of the enemy’s heaviest defences but, undaunted, has ensured by his skill, efficiency and brilliant leadership the success of his own missions and assisted and encouraged other captains and crews under his command to equal his own achievements.

At the end of the war, Edgar was commissioned to get a crew together to fly a Lincoln bomber out to Australia. He said “I had to locate this illustrious and cosmopolitan group of difficult countrymen, and extract them from pubs and units all over Bomber Command and form them into an efficient crew.” His navigator for that trip was Flight Lieutenant Douglas McDonald DFC, known as Mac and they became lifelong friends. I can still remember Mac sitting in the kitchen at Cadell recalling the day that they met. 

Mac was to be interviewed by Edgar for the role of Navigator for the trip, he arrived with a list of all his credentials but all Edgar asked him was “Do you drink?”
“Love it.” replied Mac
“You’re in.” said Edgar

In the early 1950s, Edgar purchased “Cadell”, once the original “Barham Station”, near Barham, where he grew rice, cereal crops and ran sheep and cattle.

The Vee Dub Beetle was Edgar’s preferred mode of farm transport and I’m sure many of you here today, would have experienced touring Cadell in one of his favourite beetles. My first farm tour of Cadell was early in July 2005, I was in the front with Edgar and my three sons, Max, Sam and Henry were in the back. Henry (who was two years old at the time) was standing in the middle, holding onto the back of the front seats. I was somewhat disconcerted to discover about halfway through the tour, as we bounced up and over rice check banks, that Henry was straddling a “Henry sized hole” in the floor! 

Edgar’s love of aircraft and all things aviation, never left him. After the war, he owned and flew several aircraft, including a two seater Ryan Trainer, an ex-RAAF P51 Mustang and a four-seater V tail Beechcraft Bonanza.

Many of you will remember trips in the Bonanza during the late 1970s and later and coming home in the dark with only the kitchen light at Cadell to guide the plane in. (Before leaving Hay or wherever he had been, he would phone Taffy, who used to work for Edgar, and ask him to turn the kitchen light on.)

During the mid 1980s, Edgar’s niece, Jen and her husband, Ian were visiting Cadell with Ian’s parents, who were out from the UK. Edgar insisted on a flying tour but the Bonanza wouldn’t start. Not to be deterred, Edgar got the battery out of the VW and put it in the plane. Once they were airborne, Edgar passed the controls over to Ian (who I must state, is NOT a pilot), instructed Ian to fly straight and level, then proceeded to roll himself a cigarette and turned around to chat with Ian’s parents, Jim and Agnes.

Keith Berwick was a flying friend from Albury. After staying at Cadell one time, Keith had inadvertently left his underpants there. Edgar took it upon himself to fly to Albury to return them. He chose a day that Keith was entertaining guests at his home – Edgar tied the underpants to a brick and threw them out the window of his plane as he flew over Keith’s home (fortunately no one was killed or injured… except perhaps, Keith’s dignity).

Paying bills was not one of Edgar’s strong points… at one point Edgar was having some difficulty with the ATO and his tax bill; he offered to drive a mob of steers up to the lawn in front of Parliament House in Canberra in lieu of paying his bill (the ATO declined his offer).

Edgar loved entertaining but his catering often left a little to be desired… numerous times over the years friends were invited out to dinner at Cadell only to be greeted by the complete absence of cooking smells on arriving at the house. Drinks and merriment would ensue, several hours would pass and then Edgar would announce, “Well, I’d better put the roast on!” Usually this would be about 8.30 or 9 o’clock at night and we’d be sitting down at the dining table in the bistro for a roast dinner at midnight.

Edgar loved a party and attending one with Edgar often meant getting home at 5am… even when he was in his 90s.Edgar loved women. He was renowned for turning up at the local Rice Balls with a string of gorgeous young women on his arm. A number of years ago, Edgar said to me, “Annie, if I was twenty years younger, I wouldn’t let you out of my sight.” I did a quick mathematical calculation (Edgar is fifty years older than me), “Edgar,” I said, “If you were FIFTY YEARS younger, you’d be in with a chance.” To which Edgar replied, “Oh Annie, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me!”

Edgar with Annie Barr attending Royal Ascot to watch Black Caviar 2012
Edgar with Squadron Leader Bruce Farquhar
Edgar in Bruce's Hawk Fighter jet 2012
In 2012, I was fortunate enough to accompany Edgar on a trip to England for the Bomber Command Memorial dedication in London. Highlights of that trip for Edgar included meeting the Queen for the second time in his life; watching Black Caviar win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot; having dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London; sitting in the pilot’s seat of a Lancaster bomber for the first time since 1946; attending his 550 Squadron’s reunion and the RAF Waddington International Air Show; visiting the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincoln and a personal tour of RAF Leeming, the home of 100 Squadron, with the then current Squadron Leader Bruce Farquhar. 

Edgar enjoying a visit with Miffy October 2019
Edgar loved children and welcomed them to Cadell with open arms. Max, Sam and Henry got along with Edgar like a house on fire, right from our very first visit in July 2005. Once we moved to Barham in 2009, Max in particular, spent many weekends with Edgar, often catching the school bus out to Cadell on a Friday afternoon and then back on the bus to school on a Monday morning. (Although this morning, when I was having a practice read at our kitchen table, Max informed me that he never caught the school bus in on a Monday… Edgar used to drive him to school in his big, old Fairmont Ghia, often at breakneck speed!)

Long-time friend, Dr Johnny Howell is unable to be here today but he sent through this email last night explaining how he came to know Edgar:

“Edgar’s sister, Gwen lived opposite my parents in Sydney; that was my first contact with Edgar.

In 1963, I failed second year Medicine at Sydney University – my parents were not happy!

A couple of weeks after the results, I found myself on a DC3 to Deni having been told by Dad “...Edgar Pickles will straighten you out, boy.”

The punishment started right from the jump. Edgar duly arrived in Deni and into the back of the Falcon ute I went (along with some dead wool) for the 50-mile ride to Cadell (the entire road in 1963 was corrugated dirt).

At Cadell Edgar said “You get 30 pounds a month plus keep - and you sleep on the open veranda”.

There followed weeks of digging stops (dig by hand/formwork/mix concrete by hand/pour) at the rate of one a day. Then it was endless sessions on that effing****#! Little blue Fordson tractor (which Edgar bought in Shepparton and drove nonstop to Cadell-he said it took him forever.) I told him the work was purgatory and he told me “this was the easy bit”. After a while, we got on really well together owing to the fact, in those days, I could drink Edgar under the table. Cadell turned out to be like a “New Year’s Eve party” every night.

I returned to Cadell every summer until the senior medical years and then regularly for over fifty years.

Punctuality and Edgar, rarely belonged in the same sentence. “Edgar Time” was anywhere between three hours and three days behind Eastern Standard Time.

I once asked Edgar when we were blotto, what was the greatest love of his life; without hesitation he replied, “The Rolls Royce Merlin engine!!”

Annie, both of us are very fortunate to have known Edgar - he was unique. He was a true warrior and a loyal friend.


A few days before Edgar died, I was up at Murray Haven visiting him. Edgar had been asleep for most of the day. Gwennie, Kate and I were sitting around his bed talking, after about an hour or more, Edgar opened his eyes, gave us one of his big trademark smiles, turned to me and said, “Hello Annie, you look well… give us a kiss!” (I did) The four of us laughed and talked for about fifteen minutes before Edgar squeezed my hand and said, “Give us another kiss.” To which I replied, “Oh come on Edgar, you’re milking it now!” (I gave him another kiss) We all talked for a few more minutes before we said our goodbyes for the afternoon and Edgar slipped off to sleep once more.

Edgar loved his community and his community loved him. In his later years, Edgar had a team of locals assisting and caring for him, and I would like to make special mention of our dedicated professionals at Barham Hospital and Community Health, Murray Haven, Damien Congram who assisted him at Cadell and also accompanied Edgar on his last epic adventure to England and France last year with Edgar’s niece, Kate; Wendy, Josie and the team from home care.

Annie attending the 550 Squadron Reunion with Edgar in the UK 2012
It has been a great honour to be asked to write and deliver a eulogy for Edgar here today and a seemingly impossible task to condense his almost 99 years of extraordinary life into a few sheets of paper. This is but a snippet of his many stories and adventures and the thousands of people who knew and loved him. I will leave you now with Edgar’s immortal words, “Merry Christmas and God bless.”

Edgar Lewis Pickles 10.11.1920 - 20.10.2019

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Woolworths Supermarkets Appear Hell-Bent on Destroying Life in Rural Australia

Ten years ago this month, I moved my family to Barham. I had built up a little weekend clientele in Barham while completing my Diploma of Remedial Massage in Echuca and figured a few months in Barham with my friends, Ilka and Simon Oster, would be fun before the boys and I returned to our home near Hay.

Six weeks after arriving, we rented and moved into a beautiful and much-loved family home on the river, Willow Bend in Teddy’s Lane. The months went by and the boys settled into school at Barham Primary. Thanks to the support from the local community, my new massage therapy business, Rosedale Health and Wellbeing, flourished and thoughts of returning to Hay began to fade.

Fast forward to 2019 and I while I will always have a soft spot for Hay and its community, I now well and truly regard Barham as my home. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to live and work in such a beautiful part of the world and to have raised my three sons here; I find our local community supportive and inclusive. 

While poor seasons and even poorer government water policies have badly impacted our farmers and in turn all of us, Barham has continued to bat well above its average for a little country town. We have a diverse range of quality shops, restaurants, pubs, numerous accommodation options, clubs and sporting facilities, schools, hospital, medical clinic, pharmacy and two excellent supermarkets.

A couple of weeks ago, a post shared locally on Facebook greatly disturbed me. The post was shared widely throughout our greater district along the Murray from Echuca to Swan Hill. This post was advertising that Woolworths Kerang was now offering online shopping with delivery for a fee. And would deliver to numerous locations, including Koondrook, Barham and Cohuna. 

Within a very short amount of time from that post being put up, the Woolies delivery van could be spotted on the streets of our town. That white delivery van with the Woolworths insignia and the people who choose to support it could well herald the retail decimation of our community. 

Never has it been so important to “shop local” in rural Australia. If we want our town to be a vibrant, healthy community then we have to support its businesses. These businesses in turn, support us. In particular, I want to highlight our two supermarkets, Barham IGA and Barham Foodworks. Both supermarkets are owned and run by local families. Both supermarkets provide employment stability and flexible working hours to many local adults as well as providing an excellent start for our district teenage children in the form of after school hours work. This is a fabulous grounding for our children’s future, teaching them: commitment, responsibility, reliability, punctuality, team work, social skills and interacting with a diverse range of people and at the same time, providing an opportunity for our children to begin managing their own finances. 

Woolworths is a massive multinational supermarket spread throughout Australia and New Zealand and owned by the ASX listed public company, Woolworths Group Limited (well known for “screwing” farmers but I digress…) and while I acknowledge, its Kerang store provides employment for many people who live in Kerang it is not a business that supports our Barham community to my knowledge. Every business in our twin towns of Barham and Koondrook, are regularly asked for donations towards local noble causes (our schools, various sporting clubs, hospital, nursing home, local not-for-profit organisations etc) and pretty well every local business I know, contributes in some way, shape or form throughout the year.

And while I’m not immune to out-of-town shopping myself, I do not and will not make a specific trip out of town to shop.

I enjoy supporting our local businesses and in particular my numerous-times-a-week trips to our supermarkets, I appreciate how fortunate we are to have the variety and quality of produce at our convenience, I enjoy the social interaction as I cruise down the aisles and a smile and a chat with whoever happens to be manning the checkout. 

Imagine for a moment, our town minus its supermarkets. Imagine our main streets lined with empty shops. Imagine our children with no part-time, after-school-hours job opportunities.

Will that white delivery van with the Woolworths insignia, fill that void? 

Is this (imagined) town, with no supermarkets and empty shops a town you would like to raise your children in? Is this a town you would like to start a business in? Is this a town you would like to retire in? Is this a town you would like to visit and holiday in? 

Each and every one of us has a role to play in the long-term health of our local town and community and it starts with a commitment to do the majority of our everyday shopping in town.

Annie Barr

Monday, May 23, 2016

An Eighteenth Birthday and an Excellent Adventure

The day of Max's 18th birthday - Max and I swimming with a whale shark.                        Photo: Leith Holtzman

A few weeks ago, just after lunch on a Friday, Max and I headed off on our excellent adventure to celebrate his eighteenth birthday. Instead of a birthday party or material present, my gift to Max would be some lifetime memories.

The itinerary, somewhat to his frustration, was a complete secret from Max and I, somewhat to my amusement, only revealed it bit by bit as we went along. We drove straight to Tullamarine airport near Melbourne and boarded a plane to the other side of the country.

The first part of our excellent adventure was a weekend in Perth. We caught up with cousins Warwick and Thelma in Dalkeith and our friends, Jen and Iain near the Swan Valley.
Max with Thelma and Warwick

Max with Jenny and Iain

Late on Monday morning we flew off on the next leg of our journey; a two-hour flight to Exmouth, 1,253km north of Perth, where we would spend the next four days.

Situated near the northern end of Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth is a base for people wanting to see one of the world’s largest fringing coral reefs. Teeming with marine life, the underwater world of Ningaloo is famous for its whale sharks and one of the few places in the world you can swim with them.

Monday afternoon we settled into our self-contained accommodation at the Exmouth Escape Resort; did a grocery shop at the local Exmouth IGA supermarket and booked ourselves onto a charter fishing boat for the following day.

Just after 7.30am the next morning Max and I and a dozen or more other people, boarded the Blue Horizon Charters’ 60-foot fishing boat for a day of fishing, or in my case, observing.

There was no shortage of fish but there was also no shortage of sharks... within twenty minutes or less of finding a good fishing spot, the sharks moved in and chomped up the fish before we could land them onto the boat. Exciting to watch but no good if you’re trying to catch your dinner! Unluckily for Max, twice he hooked big spangled emperor fish (that would have been just perfect for Tuesday Night Dinner) and twice a great big lemon shark relieved him of his catch.
The lemon shark, munching on Max's fish!

The next day was Max’s birthday and I had planned our whole Excellent Adventure around it. Months earlier I had booked both of us onto a full day tour with Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours to swim with the mighty whale sharks.

Arriving every year from March until August to feed in the plankton rich waters of Ningaloo, these enormous sharks are the biggest fish in the sea… and fortunately for Max and I, "filter feeders" and harmless to people.

Marine biologists and our instructors for the day, Zoe and Sasha, arrived at our accommodation at 7.15am and drove us out to the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp on the western side of the North West Cape. From here we, along with about eighteen other keen swimmers, were taken out in a tender to the Magellan, our boat for the day.

Max and I were put into Zoe’s group and she was a font of information about the whale sharks and the reef in general.

We were fitted up with a pair of goggles, snorkel and fins and given instructions on whale shark swimming etiquette: a maximum of ten swimmers in the water at any one time (plus Zoe, our spotter/instructor and Leith the photographer/videographer) we weren’t to swim in front of their mouths (in case we were inadvertently swallowed), to keep a minimum of three metres from the side of their bodies and a minimum of four metres away from their tails.

A practice snorkel on the reef ironed out any equipment glitches and gave us our first glimpse of the magical underwater world we would be in for the day. A multitude of different coloured fish of all shapes and sizes swam in and out of the coral around us and Max caught sight of a large turtle cruising past.

Once everyone felt confident with their snorkelling ability, it was back onto the Magellan and we headed out into the deeper water, where the whale sharks would be found. With a spotter plane overhead searching, it wasn’t long before Bill, our skipper received a call on the radio from the pilot, directing him to the closest whale shark.

Our group quickly assembled on the marlin board of the boat and seconds later we were in the water, swimming in a line next to Zoe who directed us to put our faces into the water and look down about five metres to our right.

Out of the dark blue deep water came a sight I will never forget: a huge spotted whale shark about seven or eight metres long, glided silently up towards us.
Max and I, swimming with a whale shark.                                                      Photo: Leith Holtzman

The whale shark set a gentle pace, swimming smoothly and effortlessly through the crystal clear water, seemingly oblivious to us as we swam along beside it. I found it difficult to judge just how close we were in the water and a number of times I felt as though I could have easily touched it, if I had stretched out my hand only slightly.

It was truly a sight to behold.
Me, swimming with a whale shark.                                                            Photo: Leith Holtzman

After what felt like a good swim, maybe ten or fifteen minutes (I had no idea of the time), we swam back to the Magellan and the second group had their swim with the whale shark. We kept swapping like this for the duration of our whale shark swimming experience. All up, we were lucky enough to swim with three different whale sharks and a total of about six or seven swims.
Max and I, in the water with the whale shark.                                                    Photo: Leith Holtzman

The second whale shark we swam with was a young male, about five metres long. He set quite a pace and we were all feeling pretty puffed by the time we got back to the boat. Our last deep water swim for the day was with an enormous whale shark, over nine metres long at Zoe’s estimation. I felt completely overawed by this huge, gentle shark as it dived down and disappeared into the dark blue water below us.
Max and I, after our whale shark swimming experience.

Back on the boat we motored out of the deep water and back through a break in the reef to the calm waters of the lagoon where we enjoyed our lunch of cold meats and delicious salads and then afterwards, snorkelling amongst the corals and brightly coloured fish.

As we made our way home, the sharp eyes of one of the crew spotted an ornate eagle ray; a large spotted and striped ray with a very long, 12-foot tail, classed as rare and endangered. Cameraman, Leith quickly got into the water to capture the ray on film. He said afterwards, it was like winning the underwater photo lottery and there had been less than a dozen sightings of the ornate eagle ray in Australian waters.
Ornate Eagle Ray                                                            Photo: Leith Holtzman

Before we arrived back at the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp, the crew from Kings has one final surprise – a beautiful dark, rich chocolate birthday cake for Max – a yummy end to a memorable day.
Our tour group on the Magellan                                                           Photo: Leith Holtzman

The next day Max and I hired snorkel gear from the Exmouth Visitors Centre and drove out to Turquoise Bay in the Cape Range National Park. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the “drift snorkel”.
Max at Turquoise Bay, Cape Range National Park

Starting at one end of the beach, we swam out into a current that allowed us to drift over the coral and get out at the other end of the beach. I felt as though we were on the magical film set of Finding Nemo. There were so many different types of colourful fish swimming around the coral…  I was relieved we didn’t see any sharks.

On the drive back through the national park we came across a large dingo chasing down a small kangaroo. The kangaroo didn’t stand a chance and the dingo killed it within seconds, right in front of our car; no doubt a welcome meal for the dingo.

The third and final part of our Excellent Adventure was a trip out to Hyden for a short weekend with our friends Astrid, Andy and their son, Max M.

Hyden is a small rural town, 323km east, south-east of Perth in Western Australia’s “Wheatbelt”. Two years ago, Max had flown west and stayed with Astrid and Andy for two weeks work experience in their family run business, The Ag Shop.

Andy met us at the airport on Friday afternoon, along with Astrid, who had just flown in from the eastern states. It was a happy surprise for Max, who had no idea we were going to Hyden for the final leg of our Excellent Adventure. On the way back to Hyden we collected Max M from his boarding school at Narrogin.

Hyden is famous for it’s geological feature the granite inselberg, Hyden Rock and in particular, the northern side, known as Wave Rock. Shaped like a tall, breaking ocean wave, it is around 14m high and 110m long. After a tour of The Ag Shop on Saturday morning, Astrid, the two Maxs and I drove out to see Wave Rock.
The two Maxs at Wave Rock, Western Australia
Max, Max M, Andy and Astrid

Sunday was our final day of Excellent Adventuring: back in the car to Perth, onto a plane to Melbourne and then back into the Barrmobile to Barham – all up, a total of 3,350km for the day. Home before midnight, safe and sound and with memories to last a lifetime. Happy Birthday Max!
Max and I at Wave Rock, near Hyden Western Australia

Annie Barr