Geordie first became involved with the Walpole Telecentre (now Walpole CRC) on March 5, 1996—yes, his birthday!—when he and I were the only Walpole people to enroll as external students in a Intro to the Internet TAFE Course via Westlink Satellite. Each of us would arrive early for every week’s lesson so we could converse about computers.
As we were entering the age of the home computer, he was forever looking up how to do things and would bring along samples of his findings. He amazed me back then with his thirst for knowledge in this area. During the term of the course Geordie and I formed a bond that lasted almost 20 years.
Geordie was a great story teller and over the years I got to learn his life’s journey.
He was born into a family of seven children and grew up in Ferryhill, County Durham, a village in north England not far from the Scottish border—Geordie country—hence his nickname, “Geordie”.
Geordie left school at age 14 and went to work underground in the local coalmines. At 16 he left home and worked above ground in the coalmines in Newcastle-on-Tyne.
At age 18 Geordie joined the Black Watch Regiment of the British Army to fight in World War II. His first postings were to Holland, then Italy where he was captured and sent to a prison camp in Germany where he saw out the rest of the war under dreadful conditions.
After being demobbed back in England, he rejoined the Army as a Colour Sergeant, with a posting back to Holland. It was here that Geordie met Daphne who was a Warrant Officer in the British Army. Romance blossomed and they were married on January 26, 1952 at the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands.
Before leaving the UK for a posting to British Guiana, the Queen Mother, who was patron of the Black Watch Regiment, inspected the troops and perchance stopped right in front of Geordie and spoke with him. At a gala ball sometime later Geordie had the great pleasure of dancing with the Queen Mother, who he said was a very gracious lady. I suspect this is where his love of corgi dogs began. Over the years there were to be four corgis, all named Nikki.
During Geordie’s and Daph’s posting in Kenya, Geordie joined the Outward Bound movement and was involved in the Junior African Leadership program. He led a group of young folk up Mt Kilimanjaro. Today there is a photo proudly displayed on the wall at the Walpole Outward Bound base camp of Geordie and the group at the summit of Kilamanjaro.
In 1962 Geordie resigned his commission and took up a position with a major shoe manufacturer in the UK. An Australian shoe manufacturer visited the factory where he met Geordie, knowing he and Daph were keen to migrate to Australia. This they did in 1968, sailing on the “Angelina Lauro”.
Geordie reported for a job with David Woodroffe, of Perth. This association grew to be a friendship that lasted until Geordie’s passing.
“Woody”, as Geordie affectionately called David, funded a holiday house in Walpole that Geordie had fallen in love with. At every opportunity Geordie and Daph would travel to Walpole for short or long breaks, getting to know the locals and the lifestyle. At the end of Geordie’s working life, it was natural they retired to Walpole to live in the holiday house, which was extended with another storey to make it a real home.
Geordie took up fishing with his friend Ray Crozer. It was around this time that Geordie also formed the lasting friendship with Thomas and Elizabeth Gerner, Thomas’ mother, Julia, and their young family. The St John Ambulance Walpole Nornalup Sub Branch was a beneficiary of Geordie’s services as an Ambulance Officer for 15 years.
Each year he and Daph would travel with their corgi, Nikki, with caravan in tow to spend the winter months in Exmouth, socializing with Geordie’s friend Rex and his wife. Rex was working at the American naval establishment at Learmonth and was a ham radio enthusiast in his spare time. He got Geordie interested in this hobby also.
When the age of computers arrived, both Rex and Geordie, who was now aged 70, embarked on another learning pathway. Bringing these new skills back to Walpole, the timing was right in 1996 to learn about the new phenomenon called the Internet.
When I was appointed Coordinator at the Walpole Telecentre, I wrote to Geordie, who was on holiday in Exmouth, and asked if he would come on board and provide support. The rest, as they say in the classics, is history.
Geordie was a regular at the Telecentre from the days when it was located at CALM’s Single Mens Quarters in Park Avenue. He would “mind the shop” while I went about town drumming up business, for back in those days what the Telecentre actually did was a well-kept secret and not many locals were brave enough to venture inside to see what computers were all about.
Once the Telecentre relocated to the Vista Centre in Vista Street, it was very easy for Geordie to be in attendance, as it was just a few doors “down the back lane”. This is when he came into his own managing the Telecentre’s entire computer system (starting with just two)—researching the best hardware and software suitable to our purposes, recommending best price and supplier, installation, networking, storage and internet.
As time went on his knowledge expanded and soon he was also managing the computers at the Primary School, and providing technical service and advice to local residents.
Geordie became great friends with Peter, Janet and Maureen Lingley of PLE Computers in Perth and, at our peak, we were purchasing $30,000 worth of computer systems annually for the Telecentre as well as on behalf of Walpole folk who had enthusiastically embraced the new technology for their home requirements.
When Daph became ill with cancer, Geordie would still come to the Telecentre each afternoon while she was resting. After she passed away in 1998 the Telecentre became Geordie’s second home and the committee, staff, and volunteers became his “family”. Many of us organised meals for him as he wasn’t much of a cook. As he said, he never knew what he was going to get from one day to the next and it sure beat a ham or cheese sarnie, which is what he would have prepared for himself.
Geordie and Daph had no children.
In 2000 Geordie was presented with Life Membership of Walpole Telecentre. The Constitution needed to be altered in order to accommodate this, as it was a requirement that all members of the committee were current financial members. It was a wonderful way to recognise the tremendous work he did, which amounted to a huge monetary saving.
Geordie continued to take annual holidays to Exmouth in the caravan with Nikki the corgi. Unfortunately, while packing up at the end of one of his holidays, he accidentally ran over the dog. Despite a frantic dash to the vet in Carnarvon, Nikki was unable to be saved.
Geordie never went north for the winter again.
So the annual task of getting in supplies of winter wood was embarked upon. John Kolo kindly brought and chopped many loads of wood and worked in Geordie’s garden, and so began another enduring friendship, with Europe during the second World War being their initial interest in common. Many a happy time was had in the ensuing years, enjoying a wee drop while singing together the songs of that era. In recent times they had been great supporters of each other—John in driving Geordie to medical appointments and Geordie accompanying John on his personal mission.
Not only did Geordie continue to provide technical support to the Telecentre, but also could be called upon to find just the right music to accompany whatever presentation that we were working on at the time; “feather-edge” a photo for a special effect; hunt up a film clip; or research and resolve a particularly obtuse problem we were experiencing.
Geordie loved going out to dinner. Over the years the Telecentre had a number of mature-aged ladies come on board as volunteers. He often invited and escorted one or other of them to the Walpole Hotel or the Tree Top Walk Motel Restaurant to enjoy a lovely evening. He would always collect the lady with a single red rose in hand picked from his garden. He was a gentleman of the highest order.
On January 9, 2007 we held a celebration at the Telecentre on the occasion of Geordie’s naturalisation. The then Shire CEO, Vern McKay, presented Geordie with an Aussie bucket hat and a pair of rubber thongs along with the usual certificate.
Geordie had a number of holidays. He returned to the UK a few years ago in the company of Heather and Frank McConchie; he went to Christchurch, New Zealand with the Gerners for his 80th birthday; and to Melbourne with the Gerners on the Indian Pacific to catch up with his friends who used to be with Walpole Outward Bound—Damon, Claire and little Reggie as well as Mike and Amber.
Geordie had lots of friends in Walpole, many of whom provided company over a few drinks and regular visits, with none greater than Dallas Parkes.
For his 90th Birthday last year, his close friends gathered for a celebratory dinner at the pub where a bar stool was presented to him. His visits to the pub on a Friday night had become a regular occasion and now he had his own stool on which to site and enjoy a drink and the bar snacks.
There would barely be a person in Walpole whose life was not touched in some way by Geordie—whether he fixed their computer, administered first aid, or cheerily greeted them at the Post Office with “’ullo, darlin’”.
Anzac Day without his Ode just won’t be the same.
He will leave a hole in the Walpole community like none other and will be remembered for a long time to come.
It was my privilege to have known him, worked with him, and to have been part of his life for the last 20 years.
Rest in peace, Whitwell.
The afternoon of July 13, 2015 saw a Memorial Service to celebrate Geordie’s life and honour his memory. Around 100 friends gathered to listen to Thomas Gerner, Woody, John Kolo, Dallas Parkes, Heather McConchie, Michael Filby, and Vaughan Bellanger, who shared poetry, acknowledgement of his community spirit, humorous stories, and memories of times gone by.
Photos and Army medals and memorabilia were on display and an electronic photographic presentation was projected onto the screen, showing many photos of Geordie throughout his lifetime. The CRC produced a bookmark (pictured left) for everyone as a keepsake of a truly gentle man. The flag at the War Memorial was lowered and raised by Monty Edmonds, to the strains of The Last Post.
A lovely afternoon tea was served after which many of the folk who attended went to the pub, to drink a toast to Geordie.
A photograph of Geordie on Mount Kilimanjaro has been placed on his empty bar stool, a poignant reminder that he is no longer with us.