3 December 2021

Vale Neil Johnson: Gunning celebrates the life of one of its best

| Sally Hopman
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Man with poddy lamb on bike

Always at home on the land, particularly his land at Gunning, Neil Johnson passed away on 2 November. Photo: Supplied.

When it came to fathers, Neil Johnson’s daughters Wendy and Ros reckon theirs was just about perfect.

He never shouted at them or raised his hand in anger and, according to their mother Barbara, “he would get the brick off the top of the chimney for you girls if he thought it would help.”

But there were limits.

“I can’t remember him ever raising his voice, but I do remember that when the ABC weather came on the TV at 7 pm, if there was too much noise happening, he would roll up his newspaper and slam it down hard on the floor,” Wendy Medway told the large crowd that gathered to celebrate the life of Neil, husband, father, twin, farmer, friend and community man, who died on 2 November.

“Ros and I knew that if dad was annoyed enough to do that, then we better keep quiet.”

Neil, 85, was born on 9 October 1936 at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital shortly after his twin brother Brian to Arthur and Mona Johnson of Gunning.

The family lived there for two years before moving to West Wyalong. The “twins’ sister”, as she was known, Janice, was born three years later.

As youngsters, the twins fought with each other as all children do, but in later years a harsh word between them was rare.

“Apparently after the fighting was done, if one was punished, the other was always very concerned for his brother,” Wendy said.

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“In later years, it wouldn’t be strange for Dad and Brian to call each other four times a day, they loved to hang out together, regularly showing up at events wearing the same or similar clothes and were happy to share everything they owned with each other.”

They also shared another love – their first car, a yellow FJ Holden ute.

“When they saved enough money to buy it, Dad would drive out to work at Dalton during the week and Brian had it on the weekends. I’m not sure how many brothers would have been satisfied with this kind of arrangement, but they somehow made it work.

“They really did have this crazy twin thing. In those days, men’s clothing options were not great, but you’d often see them turn up to things looking really similar – I guess it was part of who they were.”

Neil met the love of his life, Barbara, in 1957. They celebrated their 60th year of marriage this year at their beloved home, Goondalee, just outside Gunning, where they’ve lived ever since.

His second love was his community, particularly when it came to protecting it. He was a member of Gunning’s Fish River Fire Brigade for a remarkable 71 years, including a long stint as captain. Even when he retired, he remained connected to the group, still keen to help out where he could.

Wendy remembers as a youngster waiting for her father to come home from fighting fires.

“There were no radios back then, you’d just be sitting at home waiting, looking up at the glow in the sky and just wondering when he’d come home,” she said.

Man in shearing shed

Neil Johnson was always working – be it in the shearing shed or helping to save life and property as a volunteer firefighter. Photo: Supplied.

“I know he had a couple of near misses, including one time when they had to get under the truck for safety. There were lots of times when we didn’t know when he’d be coming home.”

Above all, Neil was a devoted father.

“He wasn’t a rich man, but if he thought he could get you something you needed, he would have given the shirt off his back to get it for you – and gone cold himself,” Wendy said.

“He even sold a cow once so there was enough money to send me on a very memorable school excursion to Bali.”

Neil was also a very patriotic Australian, Wendy said.

“I remember having lots of discussions with him about how things were and, in one talk, we’d be able to solve all the problems of the world.”

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A hard-working farmer all his life, Neil’s favourite way to relax was through music and dancing.

“As kids, we used to go anywhere in the district that a dance was being held. In particular to Jerrawa where there usually was a dance once a month,” Wendy recalled. “When Ros and I were little, we’d take turns, with Mum, of course, to dance with Dad.”

Neil will also be remembered for his involvement in the Gunning Show, Gunning P&C and Anglican Church. He was presented with the local Australia Day award in 1997 for his work organising the Gunning School reunion.

Neil Thomas Johnson was born on 9 October 1936 and died on 2 November 2021. He is survived by his wife Barbara, twin Brian, sister Janice, daughters Wendy and Ros and their families.

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