by Luke Voogt
Donald Leslie Harrison combined two life passions when he first volunteered for Queenscliff Coast Guard in 1978.
“I love boating and all my life I’ve helped people,” Les told the Independent, after becoming one of Geelong’s latest Order of Australia medallists.
In 42 years in the Volunteer Coast Guard Association, Les has plucked scores of stranded souls from the ocean and towed in hundreds of boats.
Since 2008 the 72-year-old has been stationed at Geelong Coast Guard, which he says rescues someone about once a week.
Mainly crews just gave stranded boats a jump-start, or towed them in if they ran out of petrol or capsized, he explained.
“They’re very appreciative of what we do. You just shake their hands and tell them what was wrong with their vessel and to be careful.”
But in 1993 he was involved in a major rescue alongside his then 16-year-old son when a “rogue wave” hit their boat.
Following damage from the wave, they stayed to protect and reassure the crew of the stranded yacht until a larger boat arrived to tow it back to shore.
“It was too rough for me to tow them in and too dangerous,” Les explained.
He also searched for a body as a coast guard diver at Portsea, in the years before police divers replaced them, he said.
Luckily, the woman had been accidentally reported missing due to a miscount on a diving trip, he said.
“We dived for nothing but that was alright – she was safe and that was the main thing.”
The Grovedale local, who is also a long-time volunteer for Christ Church’s meals program, said he was “terribly shocked” to receive the medal.
“But it’s a very good feeling that you are appreciated for doing this work.”
Fellow medallist Margaret Primmer had a similar reaction when she picked up the phone.
“When they rang me from Canberra I said, ‘oh my god!’” the South Geelong great-grandmother said.
“When you look back on 80 odd years and the things you’ve done – other people have done what I’ve done.”
Her mother Jessie May Twaddle won a similar medal in 1964, becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), she revealed.
Jessie’s medals for service to the community, which she kept hidden in life, now proudly adorn Margaret’s walls.
“She was very ashamed of them just like I’m embarrassed now,” she laughed.
Margaret won her award for decades with the Country Woman’s Association and half a century judging cooking at shows across Victoria.
While the 87-year-old was taking a “spell” from judging after knee surgery, she loved the variety of shows.
She embraces one important motto when judging: “oh Lord, let us not forgot to be kind.”
“That’s the hard part, you’ve got to be very careful what you say,” she said.
“Even if it’s the worst thing in the world you’ve still got to be kind.”
Grovedale’s Barry McFarlane also became an OAM after more than half a century of service to cricket.
“I started at Joeys and I haven’t left since,” he said.
Barry played 421 games with St Josephs and served for decades in leadership positions in the club and Geelong Cricket Association, most recently as association president.
“My son’s quickly catching up to my record and my wife does all the afternoon teas – she’s been doing that for 15 years,” he said.
He hung up the whites about 20 years ago but had curated at the club since.
“I’ve been a part of the club for so long I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t!” he said.
“Cricket is my number one passion – actually, I should say my family is number one – or else my wife will kill me!”
This year G21 CEO Elaine Carbines became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to the environment.
Kardinia Park Stadium Trust chairman Michael Malouf shared the honour for contributions to local government and the community.
Locals Cedric Carr, Beth Davidson, Peter Forster, Jillian Lange-Mohr, Kenneth McAllister, Lawrence Miller and John Rae were also among this year’s OAM honor list.
Leopold’s Terrence Marshall won the Ambulance Service Medal