Gordon Charles McRae was born on the 20th of December 1935 to David and Alice Elizabeth McRae in the Quairading hospital. December in Quairading (Western Australia) is always hot and December 20th would have been no exception, but Dave and Allie, who they became fondly known as, wouldn’t have noticed, because for them, Christmas this year had come early.
Gordon was their 5th child – John was the eldest, followed by Mary, Cynthia (dec), Brian, then Gordon and Pattie. At the time, the family were living at North Yoting and before long, schooling commenced at the North Yoting Primary School. He has many memories of traveling to and from school with his siblings on a horse and sulky as well as by bike. He recalled few memories of schooling – maybe it just didn’t matter because the farm was his classroom. One morning he left his brother Brian to catch the bus on his own, deciding to wag school for the day. He thought he would wait the day out at the bus stop, so he sat in the shade of a strainer post. Unbeknownst to him, his mother saw him and wondered how long he would last. When the sun reached its midday zenith, the strainer post was unforgiving and the shade had gone….and so was he…back home to mum with his tail firmly between his legs. Later on, he moved to the Quairading School where he made many friends. There he developed his lifelong love of sport, which stayed with him for the rest of his life. Those were the days of steel sprigs on football boots, bitumen wickets and sand greens….and at that time of his life he never knew any different as he was having the time of his life.
Christ Church Grammar School, in Claremont, Perth, Western Australia, followed his time at Quairading. It wasn’t the happiest time of his life as he missed the farm and the freedom of the country life terribly. He wrote letters to Dave and Allie pleading with them to take him home, even offering to chop wood for a year and to do all the dishes if they did…..they didn’t. Like all things in life, only later on did he come to know how privileged he was to get a higher education and the lifelong benefits that come about as a result of spending time there. He was a regular attendee at Christ Church Old Boy reunions and a member of the Old Boys “Unflappables” group.
Life on the farm beckoned and Gordon returned to Craigmile, the family farm, to join his father and brothers John and Brian. As a team of four, they were able to expand and purchase more country around the district in order to establish a future livelihood of life on the land – and this they all did.
In 1962, Gordon married the love of his life - Florence Mills and they settled into their life in the main homestead on Craigmile. In 1965 Athena was born, followed 2 years later by Gordon and then Priscilla in 1970 and Amanda in 1973. Life at Craigmile was halcyon. The environment was one of nurture and caring and totally lacking in fear. Days were filled with school, friends, church, athletics carnivals, swim meets, sports days and family get togethers. As children, they didn’t know about traffic lights or McDonalds. Instead they were instilled with integrity and loyalty and the learning of life skills. On the 21st of July, Gordon and Florence celebrated the penultimate milestone of their 50th wedding anniversary.
Gordon and Florence’s life in Quairading flourished and continued into their retirement in Perth. They made many lifelong friends in their days of Junior Farmers and many of those friends are here today. In his early days he played with the Quairading Football Club, but his greatest love was playing for North Quairading in the local Cricket association. We all remember how proud he was to captain the winning side one year and the shield hung in the hallway at Craigmile until it was relinquished for the tournament a year later. In the local community he served, and presided in some cases for many years as a Fire Control Officer, the P&C, the School Bus Group, Tidy Town Committee and the local Agricultural Society. Gordon continued a family association with the Quairading Co-op. Following in his fathers footsteps, Gordon was a Director and for many years the Chairman of the Board of Directors. In 1991 Gordon received the National Medal for Emergency Services from the Federal Government. Religion also played a huge part in Gordon’s life and he was a life member of the Quairading Uniting Church, serving as a Lay preacher and an Elder. Gordon and Florence continued their life in the church by joining the Willetton Uniting church once they moved to Perth and have been overwhelmed with the new friendships they have made since joining. In the wider community he was on the Producer Council of the Grain Pool and an active member of the National Party, maintaining a long friendship with past local sitting member Mick Gayfer. The one constant in his life was the Lodge. He joined the Dangin Lodge at a young age and continued his association for the remainder of his life. Lodge and in later years the Chapter was the source of much inspiration and mate ship that he found great solace in. He also embraced the discipline and challenge of memorising the readings and verses and was in constant company of his little black Lodge books.
In later years, Gordon’s daughters Priscilla married Rob Dreghorn and Amanda married Allister Gardiner. From these unions came three grandchildren – Georgia, Fletcher and Sophie. They were the apple of his eye and a constant source of delight and pride. They always referred to Gordon as Gub – a term of endearment coined by Georgia when she was uttering her first words.
Early on in his career, Gordon and Brian joined with Alwyn Richards, Ken Manning and John Durham to establish Consolidated Farms. This was groundbreaking farm economics at the time, which was based on the sharing of resources and infrastructure in an attempt to cut costs and increase efficiencies. This model has served as a blueprint for the future of this type of farming in Australia. The venture was personally rewarding for Gordon as he was able to secure a successful career in farming, which in turn set him and Florence up for retirement to Perth in 2004.
Gordon loved life on the land and he came into his own during his time at Craigmile. When asked if he ever wanted another profession, his response was always this same – the life I have is the best one I could have wished for. He loved the smell of the freshly turned earth during seeding time in Autumn just as much as he loved the vision of wheat spewing from the bowels of his prized Allis Chalmers Gleaner into waiting trucks in high summer. He saw the wonderful side to farming and delighted in the nurturing of cropping and the raising of livestock. He also witnessed some of the saddest days in farming; one in particular was during the flock reduction programme during the 90’s. Having to reduce your own stock by the quickest and most humane way weighed heavily on his psyche and something he vowed never to do again. He also wrestled with the issues of rural land degradation mixed with the commercial realities of having to use the land for personal gain. He believed strongly in the ethos of respect for mother earth and she rewarded him in return.
He was often seen in the presence of one or more loyal friends, his dogs – Toots, Trix, Tess, Judy, Skeeter and Old Smokey. He always preferred the females, he once remarked, because they were the best workers. But his love for all animals didn’t always extend so far. He once recanted a story about how a ranting “greenie” once told him to “save the whale”……to which he replied “I’ll save the whale…...for lunch”.
A few weeks before he passed, he and Florence were in Quairading and he was determined to get out to Craigmile for a look around. They drove out and parked the car on the top ridge for about an hour and reminisced, while looking out over the property and across to Mount Stirling. He reveled in the view and even though he had looked at it a thousand times before, he never tired of it.
In hindsight, we now understand his motivation for seeing Craigmile on that day – he was coming home for the last time.