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Tags: Biography. History. Bribie Island Local news. Volunteer Groups Queensland. Not for profit. Charity. Conservation

A SAD LOSS TO OUR COMMUNITY

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JOHN WILLIAM WARD 23/7/1940 – 13/3/2018

“Never before was so much owed by so many to so few” were the words that Winston Churchill used to describe the valiant efforts of the service personnel who defended England during the Battle of Britain and, when talking about John Ward who sadly lost his short battle with an aggressive disease during March, I believe that it is appropriate to use these very similar words.

“Never before was so much owed by those who care for the environment than there is to one man who, through his dedication to the flora of our region and the community he lived in, helped to improve the lives of so many.”

Born in Norwich, England, John’s love of all things horticultural, a characteristic which he inherited from his father, was developed at a young age and, as those who knew him will readily tell you, never wavered throughout his life. Following his school years, John entered an apprenticeship as a compositor, a trade which resulted in him being employed by different companies and working on a variety of publications including books for The Reader’s Digest.

As many of us knew well, John was a man who believed in getting things done without too much delay and there is no more relevant example of this part of his nature than when, after meeting a girl by the name of Ann at a friend’s wedding, he proposed within a very short period of time and they were married in 1962.

Ann explained that they lived in Sheringham where they had a guest house and then John went to work for The Eastern Daily Mail, the local newspaper in Norwich which was about twenty-five miles from where they lived. ‘Dad always worked the night shift at the paper,’ John’s daughter Sue told me. ‘He did that as a way to avoid having to drive in the traffic. It wasn’t all that busy then but he just hated waiting in traffic,’ she added.

Ann and John were blessed with two children, Sue and Neil and whilst Sue has made many visits to Australia, Neil lost his life in 2000. John continued to work for The Eastern Daily Mail for fifteen years, but, after a trip to Australia on a visit to relatives in 1988 and then a period when the Australian Government was not accepting English emigrants, Ann and John finally made the move to the land down under in 1990 and at first, went to stay at the migrant centre in the Brisbane suburb of Kangaroo Point where they paid to stay in a room which Ann told me was about two metres by three metres in size.

‘In his diary, John described the room as being like something at Colditz, (the German POW camp). The room only had the most basic furniture and one power point which was really high up so, after we bought a jug, we had to place it up on a box so the cord would reach,’ Ann pointed out. ‘Before then, I had never seen a Hills hoist and when I went to hang out some washing, I couldn’t reach the line and I didn’t know that it wound down.

I had John out there holding the line down so I could reach and the people in the kitchen were all lined up at the windows laughing,’ she said. In a rather ironic twist of fate, John had arranged for a job at the “Sun” newspaper but the publication folded before he ever worked there. He then worked at whatever was available and one of these jobs entailed supervising young people that were doing community service.

Ann recalled that there were times when these youngsters tried hard to get the better of their supervisor and would threaten to do things such as stab him with the shears and there was even an incident in which they pinned him against a fence with a chair. Apparently, the person who had been doing the job prior to John was lazy and never really made them do much work but John made sure that they did what they were supposed and he won their respect, earning the nickname “Fossil.”

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Presenting 5 wheelchairs to be used at the Caboolture Hospital

‘On one occasion, they had to move a large pile of mulch and John told them that they could go home once that was done,’ said Ann. ‘He reckoned that he had never seen anyone work so hard and the job was done before he knew it. It would never have been done if he didn’t give them that incentive,’ she said. When the Wards first settled in Australia, they lived in Burpengary but, due to a burglary in that house, they moved to their home in Sandstone Point and John began his relationship with what was then known as the Bribie Island Community Nursery, going there one day each week in 1991 and then after he retired, every day.

At that time, the nursery was completely dependent on the council for operating funds and, as a way of giving the organisation the opportunity to apply for funding grants as an incorporated body, the then president Bob Moulang formed the Wallum Action Group in December 1994.

By this time, both Ann and John had become very keen volunteers at the nursery and when talking about John’s motivation with regard to preserving the local flora, Ann told me that she believes a walk with Ian Macrae was probably what started it off. She showed me a book that Macrae had written which was entitled “Wildflowers of Bribie” and she explained that this book was John’s bible. ‘He has worn out three copies’ said Ann, who has held the position of treasurer since 1996.

Totally committed to preserving the local environment and to the Wallum Action Group, John collected seeds of native plants and cultivated them in the nursery. As an indication of just how much his knowledge of the flora was respected, John was tasked by the Pacific Harbour developers in 2006 to carry out the flora survey on the land prior to the development commencing.

The partnership between Pacific Harbour and the Wallum Action Group won the Prime Minister’s Award for a community partnership in Queensland. In 2013, John was the recipient of the Queensland Champion of Conservation Award. Over the years, John also assisted the Bribie Island Environmental Association from time to time, identifying various plants and advising them on issues such as dune re-generation although he was never a member of that organisation.

From 2008 onwards, the Wallum Action Group began to use profits from plant sales at the Community Nursery to assist people within the community and local organisations that support those who are in need of help and one of these has been the Diabetes Support Group. Co-ordinator of this group, Jan Donaldson told me that John and the Wallum Action Group have funded the purchase of a vital piece of equipment called a diabetes pump many times over the past nine years and she estimated that this would amount to over $50,000 in donations.

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John was tasked by the Pacific Harbour developers in 2006 to carry out the flora survey on the land prior to the development commencing.

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The Wallum Action Group funded a device that gave accident victim Daryl MsPherson the
ability to communicate.

‘Being able to provide these pumps to people, especially children, who have been diagnosed with type one diabetes can dramatically improve their quality of life,’ Jan explained. ‘John had a wonderful way of knowing how to provide support and it is accurate to say that he did it from the ground up, using his love of plants and growing them to help the community.

I am also the coordinator of the Dementia Support Group and John has provided that group with much-needed funding as well,’ she pointed out. John became President of the Wallum Action Group in 2012 and, as was announced at the last AGM, the total amount of money that has been donated through profits from plant sales is well in excess of $250,000. Donations by the group have included funding to assist in the installation of air conditioning in two high school classrooms, the donation of defibrillators to various community organisations, the purchase of wheelchairs for use at the Caboolture Hospital and the laying of turf in the area around the Scout Hut as well as the purchase of the diabetes pumps and assistance to VMR, the Neighbourhood Centre and the Surf Club. Whilst John was always careful about where the money donated by the group was used, he would always listen to anyone who suggested a worthy cause to him and was keen to keep helping wherever possible.

Division One Councillor Brooke Savige gave me a very good example of just how keen he was. ‘Several times, John called my office wanting to know if we were aware of anyone who the Wallum Action Group could help,’ said Councillor Savige. ‘He was a man who just wanted to do good for people,’ she added.

The Wallum Action Group’s Community Nursery is operated totally by dedicated volunteers who give of their time to help the community. I have been told that a part of the reason that these volunteers have enjoyed working at the nursery is that John’s cheeky grin and sometimes devilish banter around the morning tea table made for a great atmosphere. Group secretary Julie Rigg mentioned that they had given John the nickname of Steptoe.

‘Not only was he a hunter and gatherer of seeds and cuttings,’ said Julie. ‘He also collected pavers, pool fences, trellises and anything else that had been discarded,’ she explained. On a personal note, I would have to say that John was a man who had what is best described as an incredibly infectious personality and I believe that it was this, along with his dedication to preserving the environment that he was so passionate about and being able to help those who needed it that will perpetuate his name in the memory of not only those who knew him but also those whose lives he has touched in some way.

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John was a Champion of Conservation

I will miss the unexpected but very welcome phone calls telling me about another instance of someone having their life improved by a donation from WAG and I will also miss our talks about the various issues within the community. Calling into the nursery for a chat with John was always one of the highlights of my day.

Bribie Island, the surrounding area and the community at large have benefitted immensely because of the determined efforts of John Ward and I know that his passing has left a very large gap in the lives of many. A large gathering of family and friends that included John’s sister Joan and his daughter farewelled John at a service in the Bribie Island Church of Christ on March 19th.

John’s involvement in his community resulted in people from many sectors attending the service and this included politicians, council staff and representatives from other community organisations. Members of the Wallum Action are determined to carry on the outstanding work of John William Ward and are only able to do this with the continued support of the community.

Their Community Nursery at 208 First Avenue, right next to the Orchid House is open each weekday from 8 am until 11 am and the selection of plants that are available for sale is amazing.

Anyone who would like to inquire about becoming a volunteer at the nursery or about making a donation to help with their good work can call 0407 699953 for all the necessary information or drop into the nursery during trading hours.

Writing this tribute to someone who I knew has not been an easy task as I know that I can never accurately describe just how much John did for this community and I know that there will be important details that I have omitted, due either to a restriction of either space or time.

However, I feel privileged to have had the permission of John’s family to tell the story of such a great man. R.I.P. John Ward.

Featured image: Explaining the defibrillators that Wag was donating to community organisations.

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