”It’s about supporting people in need, it’s not about recognition.”
That’s the belief of Bairnsdale man, John Beynon, who on Australia Day was rewarded for years of volunteerism with an Order of Australia medal.
Mr Beynon has been a life-long servant of rural communities, but one that never seeks the spotlight.
Growing up in Hay, in central New South Wales, Mr Beynon joined Apex at a young age before moving to Swan Hill where he helped establish that town’s Apex Club.
He would then spend time travelling overseas before returning to Australian shores, landing in Bairnsdale.
Mr Beynon worked at the local pharmacy run by his uncle.
“We went into partnership, he retired, I was sole trader for a while, then I went into partnership with a couple of colleagues in Findlay and Weymouth in Sale,” he said.
“I retired from that partnership and continued working for them and then got to the stage where caravanning was taking up too much time, so I gave the job away.”
Since those early days in Bairnsdale Mr Beynon has worked tirelessly behind the scenes, as well as at the forefront.
He spent 11 years as a councilor, completed a one-year term as mayor, joined Rotary in 1981 and continues to volunteer with the group, while also being a Justice of the Peace and a Bail Justice.
Mr Beynon has also been on the board of East Gippsland YMCA and Bairnsdale Recreation Centre’s committee of management.
However, that information wouldn’t be common knowledge to most in East Gippsland, and that’s the way he likes it.
“I was surprised. You do these things and you’re not looking for the accolades or anything like that, you just do it,” Mr Beynon said.
“Very proud to be recognised by my friends and colleagues and everyone else, very humble about it all.
“Some of these things you can’t do without the support of your family.
“When I was mayor in 1979, four or five nights a week you have to get babysitters in, the mayor allowance was about $3000, didn’t get cars, computers, phones.
“I was always part of a team, I was out there in the community groups, part of a team of people. It’s important to recognise the terrific work of the people do all the time, usually unrecognised, working below the surface so to speak, yet they come to the fore in emergencies like the bushfires right now.”
Mr Beynon highlighted the importance of volunteers, saying the are the fabric of tight-knit communities.
“I think it gets back to small communities like Bairnsdale relying so heavily on volunteers and you’ve only got to look at the past couple of weeks with the emergency services, and all the other ancillary groups that come out of the woodwork and help, deliver stuff, set up food or clothing depots, wildlife rescues,” he said.
“That’s what volunteers are like in the community, they are the backbone of the community and without them it would be a lot worse place.
“For example, when I was mayor – I was on council for 11 years – you get invited out four or five times a week to different groups that you’ve never even heard of. They are working away in the background doing terrific things for the community.
“Last week I was down at the police station being a JP (justice of the peace) and we provide a signing service everyday of the week between 11am and 1pm, and a number people say ‘it’s a terrific service you’re providing’. People appreciate that sort of thing.”
Mr Beynon’s input to Rotary initiatives has been outstanding. He is the man behind bowelscan, which allows people to test for bowel cancer.
“The bowlscan, that’s been a big thing with Rotary, I’ve done that for a few years and it’s a good program,” he said.
“Rotary is involved with lots of different, but my main emphasis has been on the bowlscan kits – we sell a lot of those in the town.
“We also prepare health care kits to distribute for St Vincent de Paul’s, Salvation Army and Neighbourhood House. People who are having hard times can get these, basic sort of stuff that can help. We do that once or twice a year.
“We also do medical booklets you can stick on the fridge and list all your tablets on it.
“Rotary, itself, is involved in polio vaccinations, some of our club member go over to India to do that.
“Over the past 12 months we’ve been running the drought relief appeal and we’ve probably getting past $200,000 worth of hay we’ve donated, separate from the bushfires, out to Tambo Valley, down as far as Stockdale in the west.
“Most people in the community wouldn’t know the amount of hay we’ve distributed over the past 12 months.
“No one is doing for recognition, they’re doing it to help.
“It’s alright to raise the profile, but it’s not for the pat on the back.”
Mr Beynon has also been awarded Rotary’s top honour – a Paul Harris Fellow, which he said is “good recognition for the work you’ve done’.
One of Mr Beynon’s prouder, more noticeable achievements, was helping secure initial funding for what is now the Bairnsdale Aquatic and Recreation Centre (BARC).
“When I was mayor, the education department had opened up a new secondary college and Lindsay Thompson, who was the Minister for Education at the time got up and said ‘my government will give $1 Million to the continual development of sporting facilities in this area’,” he said.
“Council was looking at building in indoor sport complex/swimming pool and it was hard to pin this bloke down.
“Don Yeates, myself and Greg McWhinnie, the town clerk, we went and fronted Lindsay Thompson and he said ‘oh, I did say that’. Don had a print out of the paper, it was on the front page.
“We wanted to start digging holes, we wanted to get going, so off he trotted to the treasurer and fortunately we got that $1 million. That allowed the pool to get kicked off.
“They’ve spent much more than that on the recent upgrades, but initially council had to put a lot of money in and that was a good thing to achieve.”
IMAGE: Community-minded John Beynon was last week the recipient of an Order of Australia Medal.