Drew Coombes, July 15, 1920 to February 21, 2020

Ernest Edward Drew Coombes, a great-grandson of one of the original settlers of this area, Philip Coombes, was born at home at Birdwood on the July 15, 1920, to Ernest and Margaret Coombes (nee Hollis).

Known as "Drew", he was a little brother with brown eyes and curly brown locks, for his doting sisters, Bernice, Olive, and Jessie.

Drew was named after his father, Ernest, his grandfather, Edward Coombes, and his grandmother, Drucilla Coombes (nee Drew).

Drew had a close shave when he was a small boy. His sisters, Olive and Jessie, were playing on a produce-laden cart, and accidentally caused the cart to fall down onto him.

A nurse told the girls to say goodbye to him. But their little brother was to have more than nine decades left in him yet.

Drew was reared on a dairy farm at Birdwood.

He always enjoyed cricket, so it was only natural he would name the calves after 1930s cricketers.

Footballers, too, shared their names with calves.

Also gracing and grazing the paddocks was an "Annie of Green Gables".

During WWII, Drew joined the army and spent time in Mingenew, Western Australia, training in the use of the manually-controlled version of the Bofors 40mm gun.

The place was isolated, but was close enough to the railway line that a newspaper could be thrown to the men from the passing train.

Mingenew comes from either the Aboriginal word "minganu", meaning "the place of many ants", or "mininoo", meaning "the place of many waters", but because the men spent a great deal of time searching for water, possibly the ants win out.

During one spectacularly fruitless search for moisture, the men had managed to dig a very large hole, and were asked by a superior if they had "any letters or any other rubbish" in their kit bags they wanted to be rid of, to help fill in the hole.

Into this hole, even went letters from Drew's future wife, a Miss Joan Armitage.

Drew first paid particular notice of Joan at her 14th birthday party, on March 20, 1938.

Despite initially being too shy to talk, the pair managed to overcome their communication difficulties, and they married at St Matthew's in Wauchope on August 20, 1946.

It was the beginning of 64 years of marriage, which they spent at Birdwood.

Joan and Drew went on to have three children: Rodney in 1948, Rex (known as George) in 1950, and Kerrie (known as Kate) in 1954.

Drew, who always liked to play with words, had his own names for his 10 grandchildren, and the names were, admittedly, far more creative than their original ones: The Thing (later, The Old Original Thing), The Kilo Kid, Big Bad Bold Ben, The Naughty One, Helena Rubenstein, Ten Tonne Tone (who was also given a theme song, "San Antonio Rose"), Emmy Lou, Justin Time, Tall Man, and Baby Jim.

He keenly felt the loss of Baby Jim, better known as Matthew James Costigan, who was accidentally killed in Wauchope at the age of 19, in the year 2000.

Joan and Drew, known as Jo-Jo and Poppa by their grandchildren, also had 18 great-grandchildren, and Drew was still around to meet them all.

Joan died on June 2, 2010, with her funeral service being held at St Matthew's.

Drew's own well-attended service was held there on February 27, 2020, complete with a moving tribute by the RSL.

Drew ran the Birdwood Post Office and telephone exchange, the hub of the community, out of his home from 1956 until 1981.

He was a member of the rural fire brigade at Birdwood for 50 years.

Drew kept continuous rainfall records for the Bureau of Meteorology, starting in 1969.

He was witty, clever, bright, and sharp as a tack. He was everyone's "go to" for information and history.

He was kind, he was loving, he was decent, he was humble, fair-minded and sensible.

He gave his wife a hug and kiss every morning. A soft-hearted man, he had to ask a neighbour to put-down his much-loved dog.

He would always have suspicious moisture in his eyes when saying goodbye to family members.

At the same time, he wouldn't put up with nonsense, and could be heard to mutter, "Dear, oh bloody dear" if he encountered any.

Ernest Edward Drew Coombes was the baby of his family. With the loss of him, we say goodbye not only to him, but to his very special, never-to-be-repeated generation.

He was the heart of the family and the keeper of the memories.

The days of dances and picnics; the tennis matches; the cricket matches; the simple pleasures that made country life something special; and the hard work - he carried it all.

In the end, Drew passed away quietly, holding his daughter's hand.

He lived well, and he was well-loved. And that's the best that can be said of anyone.

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