Vale Desmond Freeman, family man and dedicated volunteer

Vale Desmond Freeman.  Photo supplied.

Vale Desmond Freeman. Photo supplied.

Desmond Charles Freeman was the third child born to Charles William John Freeman and Myrtle Alice Freeman nee McCarthy on 14th April 1932 at Wildfeld Private Hospital, Wauchope.

Des was a brother to Doreen, Reg and Barry. Des grew up on the family farm at Little Rawdon Island, and attended school at Rawdon Island Public, being the same school his father attended.

Des and his siblings rode push bikes to school and were conveyed across the river between the two islands by a hand-pulled ferry, or, at times, in a rowing boat.

Des’s greatest excitement during his school days, was seeing the emerging landing of a war aeroplane in a nearby paddock. Des, along with all the other students, rushed out of the school to observe the rare occasion.

Most children have dreams of being able to fly, but Des took it a little further. One day he took an umbrella up onto a roof and decided he would attempt to fly. He jumped off the roof, but to his disappointment the umbrella turned inside out, and Des landed with a thud on the ground.

Des had to grow up quickly and learn how to share the work on the farm. During his later childhood, he remembered that after school he would often catch his horse, Betty, and ride her to assist his father on the mainland where he was felling trees on his property to provide logs for Pembrooke sawmill.

As Des grew up, he became a keen dancer and would travel to the surrounding villages, as well as the many popular dances and balls held at Rawdon Island Hall. In 1952, one evening at a dance, Des met the love of his life, Shirley.

From then on, they enjoyed many outings together. They were both keen dancers and there was hardly a week go by without attending a dance. Des enjoyed a good movie and so did Shirley, so he permanently booked seats 1 and 2L in the dress circle at the Ritz in Port Macquarie for each Saturday night.

They often shared picnics with friends at weekends. Des and Shirley became engaged in 1955 and were married on 8th June 1957. From their marriage, they were blessed with two lovely daughters, Kerry and Lynne.

Des shared the farm with his father and brother, Reg, on Little Rawdon Island. They grew maize (corn) across the river on the mainland, where the corn was also put through the hammer mill and transferred across the river on a ferry to feed the dairy cattle in the cow bales whilst they were being milked.

Des worked very hard and endured many droughts and floods, but he always made time to be able to help with school working bees and hall functions. Des was Vice President of the Pembrooke P&C and Hall Committee for many years.

Des, being a loving father, was always proud and interested in Kerry and Lynne’s schooling and sporting achievements, and was always there for them. He taught the girls at quite a young age to water ski, and towed families and friends up and down the river in his boat, Nipper, practically every Sunday.

He even taught the famous Baz Luhrmann to water ski, not realising that one day his rookie would be famous. Des was a keen skier and also loved to go fishing out to sea when the opportunity arose.

In 1980, daughter Kerry married Kevin who was welcomed into the family. From their marriage they were blessed with a daughter, Amanda and a much-loved granddaughter for Des and Shirley. Amanda always loved to visit her Ma and Pa and followed Des everywhere.

As Kerry and Lynne were no longer living at home, Amanda filled a certain void in Des and Shirley’s lives. As Amanda grew older, she would spend all her school holidays with them, and was always good company, and a great help in many ways.

In 1992, Des and Shirley had a new home built on the mainland and this was a big move for them, as they had always shared the family home with Des’s parents. It was during a drought, and it was difficult keeping up sufficient food and water for the cattle, but at the same time, it was a happy occasion.

Des having the gift of being able to water-divine, he was sought-after during the droughts. He had a task keeping up to the demand, with schools, clubs and, of course, individual properties from north, south, east and west wanting his services.

Des suggested a large garden with a ranch-style fence to surround their new home and it was agreed to by Shirl.  Self-sufficiency kicked in. Des said he would just go out into their bush and fall a few trees for the posts for ranch fence and  ‘we can get Coopers Mill to cut the runners from some of our logs (easy)’ and Shirley wouldn’t hear of him going on his own: ‘much too dangerous’.

So, it was a joint effort. After numerous large posts were cut and erected, and the runners delivered it all only had to be put together. Shirley thought: “It won’t be long now, and it will all be finished.” But Des believed if a job wasn’t done properly, it wasn’t worth doing.

So, the posts had to be all cut and chiselled out to let the runners in flush. After many hours of hard labour and blisters, plus a coat of paint, it was a job well done.

The garden took time, but all gradually progressed to their satisfaction. Des was kept extremely busy falling trees to cut posts for use on the property. Having to renew the boundary fence and practically every other fence as well, but somehow word spread, and he had orders for posts from everywhere.

In later years, Des was asked to do the BBQs for the Port Venture which had a BBQ park on a section of his property. After a lot of persuading, he accepted.

It was a big job cooking for anything up to 200 hundred people. He enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life and nationalities.

Des would always have something interesting to tell Shirley, whether it be a large goanna frightening the tourists up onto the tables, or a group of Japanese exchange students walking through the bush in their little high heels.

He liked his co-workers and made it a happy occasion. Des, being a loyal member of the Pembrooke Rural Fire Brigade, was often called out to fight fires. In 2006, he was awarded with a National Medal for being a volunteer for over 50 years. In 2012, Des was awarded with the Life Membership of the Rural Fire Brigade.

Due to illness Des unfortunately had to resign from being an active firefighter but continued to be an interested member and attended meetings. Des enjoyed reading and looked forward to reading the papers when he had the chance to get them and he always enjoyed a good book.

He loved the cricket and liked to follow it. Documentaries were another favourite, but he hated to miss the news, even though he argued often with what he was hearing.

Des with Shirley loved to go caravanning and managed to have some delightful trips, but unfortunately, being on the land prevented them from going away as often as they would have liked to. Des loved his home and surroundings, and all his cattle were almost like pets.

Des was always a lover of the bush, and his motto was to have his forest selectively felled, resulting in first class timber. He was very close to nature and admired the native blossoms and loved to encourage the birds to the garden. In the spring he would often look out over the fields and remarked: “We have one big beautiful garden.” 

But his greatest love of all was his wife and family.