The 10th of May 1938 was 477 days before the outbreak of the 2nd world war. It was also the day in Ilford, Essex, that proud parents Thomas Bones Cornett (aircraft engineer) and Agnes Cornett (nee Powell) welcomed a baby boy into the world – Derek Thomas Cornett. The oldest child with 2 sisters Jean and Gillian.
Derek saw his early years as an adventure, growing up in London during the Blitz. At the age of 5, Derek started his first business, buying offcut timber from the sawmill, filling his cart and selling it to neighbours as firewood. This was his first of many businesses, always retail, find what people want and get it for them.
Education & Military Service Despite having grades high enough to go on to tertiary study, in Derek’s want for adventure, he chose to do his National Service. He joined the Airforce to be a chef, going to Cyprus by ship, spending his spare time riding shotgun on Army patrols. On his return to England, upon release from National Service, Derek joined the Sainsburys (supermarket) team. While working full time he went to night school studying business.
Arrives in Australia After the death of his mother in 1962 Derek was at a bit of a loss. He decided to immigrate to Australia as a “10-pound pom”, all set for a new adventure. He first arrived in Sydney, with a plan to spend some time in each Capital city before deciding where to settle down. One of the jobs he had was selling Encyclopedia Britannica subscriptions in the worker’s camps of the Snowy River scheme (one of the largest engineering undertakings in Australia’s history). After signing up an Italian family, he realised this job was not for him, his morals would not allow it. He could not live with himself signing up an immigrant family who spoke little to no English, living in a tent with nothing to their name, to a large ongoing financial commitment, that they neither could use or afford. The second city on Derek’s around Australia tour was Melbourne. Day 1: Check into a hostel and pay for the first week, 2 shillings left, wash shirts and hang out to dry, they are stolen off the line. Go for a job interview with Tom the Cheap grocer, with qualifications from study with Sainsbury’s at night school.
“Any references?” asked the interviewer. “No, but I have qualifications” said Derek “We want references, not qualifications, will let you know next week” was the interviewer’s response.
“I can’t afford to live until next week” was Derek’s reply.
Some 9 years later when Derek left Tom the Cheap, he was second in charge for Victoria for what was a large national grocery chain, personnel file still read “2 weeks trial”.
It was working for Tom the Cheap where Derek met another “10-pound pom”, Joan Hutchinson. Joan had immigrated with a childhood friend Olga and her family, life-long friends to this day.
Derek & Joan Married on the 2nd of January 1965. Having 2 children in Victoria, Graham John 12/08/1966 and Debra Ann 18/12/1968 before moving to Queensland where Andrew Paul was born 17/07/73. Family life was very much centred around work and community service, with rare but much-loved family gatherings.
The move to Queensland was to work for Tickles, a major Queensland grocery wholesaler (which can be traced to Metcash, the wholesaler for IGA). Derek had a bought and sold a store in Chermside, before buying a store in KippaRing.
In January 1978, while on family holidays, Derek said to Joan that he was going to buy a store at Bribie. Joan asked a couple of questions. “Do you know where it is?”
No, replied Derek. “Do you know if it is for sale?” No, responded Derek.
“Do we have the money?”
No, Derek answered again. By Easter that year Derek & Joan’s IGA Supermarket had been trading for 1 week. This was to be the foundation of what would become a chain of 50 stores spread across Queensland. Bribie Community Derek spent 42 years of his life being an active part of the Bribie community. Well recognised and highly respected he saw serving and supporting the community as a normal extension to business, life and everything.
Derek was RSL Club President between 1987- 1998 and was awarded an Honorary Life Membership in recognition of his contribution to the Club. It was Derek’s keen business acumen and committed guidance that saw the early establishment of the Returned Services Club. Derek committed countless volunteer hours to ensure the Club was sustainable and that the community were the direct recipients of its success.
The RSL Club and our community would not be what it is today without Derek’s contributions. In the days of the Queensland Ambulance Transport Board (QATB), the Ambulance Service did not have the government funding it has today.
The Ambulance Service was primarily funded by membership and the fundraising efforts of local Ambulance committees. Derek was an active committee member for several years.
Derek joined the Lions Club, Bribie Island on the 17th July, 1979. He was the recipient of many awards including the Melvin Jones award 1992, Life membership in June 2010, The President Appreciation award in 1983 & 1985, Perfect Attendance Award from 1980 –1989 and also the Monarch award.
Derek was given the status: Lion at Large in July 1992, then Privileged Lion in November 1994. He also held various director roles from 1982 to 1986. Derek supported Camp Quality for 29 years, Australia Day festivities, Memorial Gardens as well as many other Lions events.
Derek also supported most clubs and associations on the Island. Whether it was scouts, soccer, football, local schools, charity fundraisers or any other good cause, there was a good chance they saw support at some stage from Derek and his business.
It was never touted, but he supported and backed a large number of people. It was not unusual for Derek to personally help staff, and others in the community, facing personal hardship.
They say if you love what you do, you never need to work a day in your life. Derek put everything into everything he did, not just for business, but the community and others, putting money from his own pocket into many parts of the community.
There is so much you can say about a life lived; you could write a book, oh, hang-on, he already did. Derek was on the phone with the printers confirming the printing of his autobiography, in a limited print run, on the morning of Tuesday 19th of May, job done.
Derek Thomas Cornett, 10th of May 1938 to 19th of May 2020, this was a life that certainly was well lived.