8 September 2023

Collector community mourns loss of one of its best - Gary Poile

| Sally Hopman
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One of the last photographs of Gary Poile with his wife Felicity and their granddaughter – “the light of his life” according to friends. Photo: Facebook.

When the freak floods hit Gunning earlier this year, Collector SES controller Gary Poile apologised to his crew because the chemotherapy he was undergoing wouldn’t allow him to get there. He directed operations from his bed and, when the chemo was finished, he headed straight to Gunning to help with the sandbagging.

“That’s the sort of bloke Gary Poile was,” Upper Lachlan Shire Mayor Pam Kensit said, the day she was told her friend had died.

“People should know that’s who he was,” she said. “Always thinking of others, never himself.

“He was the bloke you’d go to if you needed something. Nothing was ever too much trouble.”

Councillor Kensit said Mr Poile would be remembered as a stalwart of the Upper Lachlan Shire, “a man who never complained, just soldiered on”.

READ ALSO Come good times or bad, Collector’s community hub rises once more

Mr Poile, who had been fighting an aggressive form of esophageal cancer for less than 12 months, died on Wednesday, 6 September. He was 61. He completed all his cancer treatment at the end of May, but only found out about three weeks ago that the cancer had returned and spread. It was stage four, with no expectation of recovery.

From his beloved Collector, where he was raised, across to Canberra and down the coast, Mr Poile was well-known and respected for many reasons. He was the guy who sold the best honey, the familiar sight in orange SES overalls in times of crisis, and a volunteer with the Rural Fire Service. He was a Collector community stalwart, passionate environmentalist, devoted husband, father and grandfather – and one of the founders of the Collector Pumpkin Festival.

Mr Poile’s friends and family knew he was sick, Cr Kensit said, but not from any complaints about it. He just got on with it, the sort of man who got on with life regardless of what it dealt him.

Selling direct to the public

Making honey and talking about it to customers was one of Gary Poile’s passions, pictured here with his wife Felicity. Photo: Facebook.

“His passing is such a loss to this community,” she said. “Not only for all the things he did, but also for the remarkable history he takes with him.

“His knowledge of this place, this land, was remarkable. That was so important with his role in the SES. He knew this area so well, he knew the land, the people, he lived his whole life here so he knew it so well.”

When you have natural disasters like floods, bushfires and freak events, that sort of local knowledge saves lives, she said.

READ ALSO Community spirit helped save Gunning from flood ruin, locals told

Acting commander of the Collector SES John Zeller described Mr Poile as “my best mate”.

He said when he moved to Collector more than 10 years ago, into the house across the road, Gary Poile was the first to greet him, saying if he needed anything, to just ask. And if he didn’t have it in his shed, he’d likely know someone who would.

“He was the sort of bloke who was willing to give you his left hand if he thought it would help,” Mr Zeller said.

“One of the things I loved best about Gary were the little things. Like when we’d go out in the SES truck … out to Bevendale Crossing which was about the furthest reach of our area.

Gary Poile with a prize-winning entrant in the Collector Pumpkin Festival, an event he helped establish and ended up raising thousands of dollars for the local community. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

“Gary would talk about who lived where, what it was like to live there 50 years ago because he knew all that.”

But he said one of his favourite “Gary war stories” was when Collector used to boast a “nightclub” or two. Because of drinking regulations, only bona fide travellers could get a drink legally if they were a certain distance from the city.

“Gary said all these people would come out to Collector from Canberra as bona fide travellers. He said he’d see them the next day all passed out in the street and then the police would come and scrape them up. He loved telling that story.”

Mr Zeller said the last time he saw his friend was about a week before he died.

“It was like he knew his time was up so he came out to see his SES crew and got his chance to say goodbye. He said he’d stopped his treatment. He knew what was happening.”

Funeral arrangements were still being organised at the time of writing.

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