Murray makes his mark

Murray makes his mark

Life & Style
HISTORY SHARED: Murray Sherwell in the Naracoorte Pioneer Park, where he helped trace much of the local history, and learnt of his talent for bush poetry.

HISTORY SHARED: Murray Sherwell in the Naracoorte Pioneer Park, where he helped trace much of the local history, and learnt of his talent for bush poetry.


CFS stalwart Murray Sherwell was among those in the Queen's Birthday honours, commended for "services to the Limestone Coast".


IT was midget car racing that originally brought newly-appointed Order of Australia recipient Murray Sherwell and his wife Rita to SA in 1960.

Murray had been involved with the competition in Vic, and was asked to move to Bordertown to help start a club in that town, which eventually became the Tolmer Speedway.

In his time since, he has been an active member of a number of committees and organisations, including helping to shape the Country Fire Service into the organisation it is today.

Earlier this month, he was one of the Australians recognised in the Queen's Birthday honours, commended for his "services to the Limestone Coast community".

Murray said the first he heard about his inclusion in the honours list was during a telephone call the Thursday prior.

"I didn't expect anything like that, and I was so delighted to have it presented to me," he said.

In the fortnight since the announcement, he estimates they have had in excess of 130 phone calls, as well as letters from the governor, premier and parliamentarians.

This is not the first time Murray has been honoured. He has previously been awarded the national medal on four occasions - in 1978, 1986 and twice in 1998.

He was also awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal, given for distinguished service in one of the state, national or federal fire agencies, during the Australia Day honours in 1990.

"Rita and I have both been very busy since we came to SA in 1960," he said.

They were both active in the fire brigade, as well as cross-country and swimming - Rita as a judge and Murray as an announcer.

"If something had to be done, I'd go out and give it my best shot," he said.

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Murray's introduction to fighting fires came as a 16-year-old when he joined the Vic-based Country Fire Brigade, as it was known then, and soon became involved in the former Emergency Fire Service brigade in Bordertown as well.

He even took on the "unique" role of volunteer regional officer.

During his 20 years at Bordertown, he took the local brigade back across the border to compete in firefighting championships.

"They had to learn how to march and how to present themselves, and they did very well," he said.

After coming on board as a staff member, Murray had a stint in Adelaide before transferring to Naracoorte.

There, he covered an area that spanned just south of Loxton, down to Port Macdonnell and across to the Murray Mouth.

There were just two staff members "for a long time" - himself and Rita.

But eventually things got better and they got a third employee.

If something had to be done, I'd go out and give it my best shot. - MURRAY SHERWELL OAM

In his involvement with the fire brigade, Murray was on the committee when the EFS became the Country Fire Service in 1976, and then held the role of acting assistant chief officer for the state.

He even represented Australia, among a small number of members of Australasian brigades selected to learn new skills.

He was also involved during the time of Ash Wednesday - a dark time that put him off "anything to do with fire for quite some time".

"There was no counselling for us," he said.

In his front hallway, Murray has certificates for at least five life memberships for different organisations, including the Tatiara Firefighters Association, the EFS, the CFS, Lions Naracoorte and Lions International.

It was in his role with Lions Naracoorte that Murray became involved in the project to preserve the history of Naracoorte's Pioneer Park, which helps to commemorate the pioneering families of the region.

It also previously served as the Naracoorte-Kincraig Cemetery.

Murray said when the Lions Club took on the project it was "no more than a paddock inundated with rabbits".

He was given "free reign" in his role as the Pioneer Park Committee chair and helped find some of the names of people believed to be buried at the site.

This time led him to write a booklet The spirits of Pioneer Park: Narracoorte-Kincraig Cemetery, 1850-1878, which is included in the National Library of Australia.

"The book went all over Australia and provided a lot of information for people trying to find their ancestors," Murray said.

This connection with the region's history also led to him discovering his passion and talent for bush poetry.

His initial poems were based on the local history he uncovered at Pioneer Park, including his most well-known, based on the story of mailman working between Naracoorte and Apsley, who was buried at the Naracoorte-Kincraig Cemetery.

Murray concedes he has fit a lot into his years so far, with more planned to come.

"It's been a busy life," he said.

"Would we do it all again? We probably would.

"The people have been wonderful."

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